Foundation recently awarded School of Dental Medicine $350,000 to serve rural and city residents, low-income older adults and more

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Faculty and staff within the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine (SDM) are acutely aware of disparities in oral health care, which particularly affect low-income children, rural residents and individuals who struggle with mental health, disabilities and housing.

The dental school has been making strides over the past two decades to rectify some of these disparities through its S-miles To Go program, which provides dental care through two state-of-the-art mobile dental clinics in rural and urban communities in Western New York. Services include exams, cleanings, fillings, sealants, fluoride treatments and extractions.

“Our dental vans provide very necessary services to people who don’t have access to care for multiple reasons, including finances and transportation,” said Paula Fischer, director of school-based and outreach dental programs in the SDM. “When you get into the rural areas, they may only have one pediatric dentist who takes state insurance.”

Funding from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation has made much of this work possible. Over the past four years, the foundation has provided the dental school with more than $2.1 million in grants. Most recently, it awarded $350,000 to the school for the 2024 calendar year to cover the cost of maintaining the state-of-the-art equipment within the units, contributing to salaries and expanding outreach.

“We are extremely grateful for the generous support we’ve received from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, including this most recent grant,” said Marcelo Araujo, DDS, PhD, dean of the SDM. “It will allow the dental school to continue its outreach to underserved populations throughout Western New York, which in calendar year 2022 totaled 11,194 procedures performed on more than 1,483 patients at 22 different sites.”

Altogether, the mobile units for the coming year will provide dental care to:

  • children in rural communities attending Title 1 schools,
  • parents and children living on Buffalo’s East Side,
  • low-income older adults,
  • homeless individuals,
  • people with disabilities.

Each of these groups faces distinct challenges in accessing dental care. Providing the outreach through S-Miles to Go not only helps the recipients of the care, but it also gives dental students valuable experience in treating individuals from low-income backgrounds, those with special needs and pediatric patients.

“In the rural areas we serve, our dental students gain a true understanding of the barriers to health care, including lack of transportation, providers not accepting state insurance and low health literacy, not to mention lack of fluoridation in the water,” Fischer said. “Lack of community water fluoridation leads to higher rates of the infectious disease, dental caries, resulting in more cavities, in children and adults.”

One of the newer S-miles To Go outreach programs stems from a collaboration with Hispanics United of Buffalo (HUB). Faculty and students who participate in UB’s Hispanic Dental Association provide care to more than 200 Hispanic seniors, offering culturally sensitive services. Another newer program is through Arc GLOW, which provides residential and programming services for to up to 2,000 individuals of all ages with intellectual or development disabilities living in Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties.

“UB has an annual requirement for our dental students to provide care to people with disabilities,” Fischer said. “Through this outreach effort, they learn how to respectfully and confidently work with people with disabilities in underserved areas.”

Serving Arc GLOW holds a personal significance to Fischer. Her late uncle was a founding member of the agency and served on its board of directors for 50 years. Her two cousins are served by the agency.

“I know the struggles my family has encountered trying to get care for my cousins,” she said.

A new partnership this year is with Gerard Place, a nonprofit facility located near the intersection of Bailey and East Delevan avenues in Buffalo that provides support programs for single-parent families and individuals experiencing homelessness. Most of these residents live in poverty and dental services are scant, Fischer explained. This outreach program is in addition to onsite dental care provided at Buffalo City Mission.

“Among the homeless population, access to dental treatment is a particular problem with few transitional facilities offering onsite dental services,” Fischer said. “As a result, cases of tooth decay and periodontal disease are significantly elevated among this population. Oral health care is frequently cited as one of the greatest unmet health needs by those living in unstable housing situations.”

The Cabrini grant makes ongoing services possible for all of these vulnerable populations.

“We’re so grateful to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation,” Fischer said. “They’ve been pleased with the work we’re doing at the dental school and the concrete results of our mission: helping the underserved.”

The Mother Cabrini Health Foundation – which is named in memory of a tireless advocate for immigrants, children and the poor – provides flexible support for new and innovative approaches that enhance health and wellness across New York. It is one of the largest foundations in the United States and the largest focused exclusively on New York. To learn more, visit the foundation Mother Cabrini Health Foundation website.