After the months of work that it took to make happen, it was fitting that the MUSC College of Dental Medicine dental clinic at the Ryan White Wellness Center of Charleston held its ribbon cutting on World AIDS Day – Dec. 1.
The Ryan White Wellness Center is a federally funded clinic for people living with HIV. Located in West Ashley and operated by Roper St. Francis Healthcare, the clinic is a one-stop shop offering medical, vision and mental health care as well as social services like housing assistance, a food closet, legal aid and life skills classes.
MUSC dental students, through Ryan White grants to MUSC and Roper, have long provided dental care to people living with HIV at the college dental clinic on the peninsula. Roper patients with more complex cases will still be treated at the main peninsula site, but the students, as well as a dental assistant, dental hygienist and a faculty member, will now work out of the West Ashley site to offer routine cleanings and basic dentistry, including comprehensive exams, X-rays, fillings, extractions and temporary crowns to the Roper patients.
Amy Martin, DrPH, chair of the Department of Stomatology and director of the Division of Population Oral Health in the College of Dental Medicine, said the new clinic is significant for two key reasons – and both of those reasons have to do with the interdisciplinary nature of the clinic.
First, patients will be able to access dental care in the same place that they’re already receiving other services. The on-site dental clinic means patients are less likely to fall through the cracks, as there are case managers who work with clients to ensure they’re getting all the necessary care and aid.
Second, students will have the opportunity to work alongside professionals from other disciplines. Students will attend a weekly “rounding” session at which the upcoming week’s client files will be reviewed by the entire staff so everyone – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers – will have a complete understanding of each client’s situation.
“Oral health is part of systemic health,” said Sarandeep Huja, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the college, and he’s happy to see that the center values oral health.
Kimberly Butler Willis, Ph.D., director of community health at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, explained the significance of oral health.
“People living with HIV/AIDS are a high-risk population, with growing oral health needs, particularly because common oral health conditions are more severe for these patients,” she said. “A weakened immune system can require more intensive and costly treatments. However, with a growing number of HIV/AIDS patients without dental insurance or access to routine preventive care, regular oral health education and free preventive dental services care are essential to a comprehensive and holistic center like the Ryan White Wellness Center.”
Huja is also excited about the tremendous learning opportunity for students that this clinic represents.
“I think this is the way forward, and we have to prepare our students for different practice models,” he said. “Thirty years ago, most graduates went into private practice. Now, they have various options such as the military, a Federally Qualified Health Center, the U.S. Public Health Service or corporate practice.”
Many students also want to concentrate on underserved populations, he said.
“Being able to practice in a clinic like this not only develops your clinical skills but your heart,” he said.
Leslie McGarity, D.M.D., is serving as the on-site faculty supervisor while the college searches for a permanent director. As a double graduate of MUSC, having trained here as a student and then as a resident, she’s happy to be in a position to give back to the school.
“It’s been wonderful to be able to serve this patient population,” she said.
McGarity and the two staff members have been seeing patients for about a month. Students began their rotations this week.
Each week, two third-year and two fourth-year students will spend three days at the clinic. They’ll do two rotations each semester.
As they enter the clinic each day, they’re likely to encounter the joyful presence of Frank Salazar. A patient for 18 years, Salazar recently joined the team as a peer navigator.
Salazar said he’s always wanted to work at the center because of all of the help that he has received over the years. He loves his job, he said.
“It’s a really wonderful place to come and work,” he said. “You can feel the concern, the care. People love coming in here to work. You can feel that.”
Martin, who is heading up the search for a permanent dental director, said it took a lot of people in multiple departments at both MUSC and Roper to get the clinic off the ground.
Huja particularly cited Sorin Teich, D.M.D., associate dean of clinical affairs, and Frankie Wilhoit, manager of business and clinical operations, as being instrumental in operationalizing the clinic.
“It’s evidence of two large regional health care systems collaborating for the advancement of a highly prized portion of our community who deserve the highest quality of care,” Martin said. “It’s a great reflection on two systems putting patients first.”
“It’s so much better now.” Families of people with special needs applaud the opening of a new dental treatment area.
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Keywords: Education, Features