By Annette Pinder

Most of us know that if we don’t take care of our teeth we can get cavities, but there are many more reasons to get serious about our dental hygeine. Poor dental health has been implicated in multiple medical complications such as heart disease and respiratory infections. This particularly affects our most vulnerable populations, including those with special needs or intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Maureen Sullivan, D.D.S., Chief of Dentistry, and head of the Divisions of General Dentistry, Dental Oncology, and Maxillofacial Prosthetics at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), agrees that poor dental health is often more prevalent in these disparate populations. Oftentimes, general dentists in the community are not equipped to treat individuals with special needs. ECMC has three separate and distinct dental clinics that accommodate all medically complicated, cancer diagnosed, and special needs patients.

It is for this reason that ECMC is looking forward to a five-year grant for over $700,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The grant will allow ECMC’s Department of Dentistry to care for the most vulnerable and underserved people in our community who lack access to regular dental care.

The plan is to have Elizabeth B. Kapral, M.S., D.D.S., of ECMC’s Department of Dentistry, successfully train pre-doctoral students and post-doctoral dental residents to care for special needs patients. Dr. Kapral will be mentored by Dr. Sullivan, who trained dental students and residents in the care of special needs populations, including cancer patients, over the past 20 years.

ECMC’s dental general practice residency is a comprehensive hospital-based program that trains new general dentists to treat patients with various medical issues. ECMC’s Center for Cancer Care specializes in Head & Neck, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, Dental & Medical Oncology, Maxillofacial Prosthetics, and Breast Oncology. The oral oncology team provides diagnosis and treatment of a variety of oral cancers as well as specialized dental care for patients who require maxillofacial prosthetics following disease or trauma.