Millions of people of all ages live with disabilities—developmental or acquired, physical or intellectual—that can have profound effects on their lives.
It is tough enough to find medical care that tends to their ailments, so oral health often takes a backseat. This is especially true for low-income families without the means to attend to vital oral care.
That’s a problem Mark Wolff, Morton Amsterdam Dean at Penn Dental Medicine, wants to confront head-on.
“Every family in every community has a member with a disability,” Wolff says. “That could include veterans, senior citizens, children with autism spectrum disorders and genetic disorders, you name it. Training dentists who can make a difference for every member of society is a responsibility we take seriously at Penn Dental.”
As part of The Power of Penn Dental Medicine Campaign, the School is embarking on a capital project to create a Care Center for Persons with Disabilities, which will serve an estimated 10,000 patients. Renovations to the Schattner Building will allocate approximately 3,000 square feet to create the Center, expanding access points and installing operatories—all designed to accommodate wheelchairs and other support devices. Students and staff will be expertly trained to handle the unique needs of people with sensory impairments, behavioral problems, psychosocial issues, and other conditions requiring sensitive and comprehensive handling.
“Nearly a third of our patient population has a significant disability requiring assistance of one form or another,” Wolff says. “This isn’t a special need—it’s a basic need.”
If anyone was destined to lead this effort, it’s Mark Wolff. Staunchly dedicated to expanding dental care to underserved populations, Wolff developed a clinical program that provided free treatment for survivors of torture and other crimes against humanity at the College of Dentistry at New York University, while teaching students how to better tend to this unique group of patients.
“Something that we’re trying to instill in Penn Dental students is a holistic view of health,” Wolff says. “If they can learn how to care for patients with the most demanding needs—a patient who has trouble with balance or someone with language or cognitive impairments—and do so in a way that is compassionate and culturally sensitive, they can deal with any patient imaginable.”
“Nearly a third of our patient population has a significant disability requiring assistance of one form or another. This isn’t a special need—it’s a basic need.”Dean Mark Wolff
The Care Center for Persons with Disabilities will establish Penn Dental as a leader in these unique services. Faculty leaders will be tasked to create guidelines that any dental practice can adopt and which all dental students should be taught. The School also plans to host symposia, present at conferences, and publish about this issue in leading academic journals.
Other Penn Dental Medicine Campaign priorities also align with advancing this important cause. Robust financial aid enables students to dedicate more time to serving in the care center, receiving the kind of hands-on training that is necessary to become expert caregivers wherever they practice after graduation. In addition, annual giving enables Dean Wolff to allocate resources necessary to improve Penn Dental’s educational programming and caregiving services.
“Annual giving allows us to expand endeavors that have a direct impact on people,” Wolff says. “With more support, we can make the decision to allocate funds for more financial aid or expand services that treat underserved communities.”
The Power of Penn Dental Medicine Campaign is fueling Penn Dental’s mission to create gateways to quality oral health for communities through accessible dental care for all—enhancing the School’s ability to serve Philadelphia communities, advance pathbreaking research, and prepare tomorrow’s dental leaders. Learn more about Penn Dental’s impact and opportunities to support its work here.