Dental program to bite the dust

by Yelena Kibasova

The closing of the advanced education in general dentistry program in the Dentistry School has some concerned and others excited for a better future.

The program, which has been around for more than 20 years, will close June 30. It is known for providing care to patients with extraordinary cases, said Jim Gambucci, the director of the program. These are patients who might have concurrent medical issues, such as Down syndrome, that can make dental work more complicated.

“It is a little bit of an emotional time for those of us who have been involved in the program for years,” he said.

After the clinic closes, its patients will have the opportunity to be seen by pre-doctoral dentistry students in University clinics as well as go to a new dental clinic in University clinics, said Patrick Lloyd, dean of the School of Dentistry.

The program has eight residents who work in the Family Dentistry Clinic as well as supporting staff and faculty members. The residents in the program are postdoctoral dental students who treat the several hundred patients who visit the clinic.

The closing of the program has patients like Susan Galegher, a University graduate student, concerned about the future.

“Where are people going to go that have medical issues?” asked Galegher, who said that because of various hypersensitivities started visiting the family clinic after the dental school’s hospital clinic closed two years ago.

“One time when they were working on one of my teeth, all of a sudden I couldn’t get air in or out,” she said. “The person who was working on my tooth got so upset and freaked out. Thank goodness there were other actual real experienced dental people there, because I do have unusual reactions to things.”

Gambucci said he understands the concerns patients and employees are having with the switch.

“These concerns are real. It’s hard to tell somebody absolutely yes, everything is going to be OK, until you can kind of show them that it will,” he said.

The switch will be an opportunity for predoctoral students to work on a wide range of cases. Lloyd said that a couple of years ago the American Dental Association made it a requirement that all dentistry students have experience with special cases.

“This will allow our students, all of our students – not just a small number of them – to be able to appreciate the needs of special population groups,” he said. “It allows us to really enhance our curriculum and I think people are losing sight of that.”

For Galegher, the switch to receiving care from postdoctoral students to predoctoral is the main concern.

“I don’t care where I actually get my teeth worked on – except that if it’s going to put me in more jeopardy to go to one place or another, I want to go to the place with less medical jeopardy,” she said.

But Gambucci said the predoctoral program is very similar to the current clinic.

“All of the work they do on patients Ö is under the supervision of faculty,” he said. “We have that same format in our clinic.”

The Dentistry School also will open the University Medical Center, Fairview, dental clinic July 1, Lloyd said.

“That will be a primary site for people who really need their care provided more in a hospital-like setting,” he said.

These cases might include patients with bleeding disorders or patients with severe anxiety who might need sedation.

Galegher said she wonders how stable this hospital clinic will be since the University’s past dental hospital clinic closed a few years ago.

“Those of us who have medical issues – are we going to actually be able to count on this being available for more than a year or two?” she said.

Gambucci said the new clinic has a lot of potential for staying open because it has backing from the Academic Health Center.

“It should be more secure than the other one, simply because some of the financial support for that program is going to come from some other sources,” he said.

Gambucci said the Dentistry School has been working to communicate with patients since October to make a smooth transition.

“We have not told any of our patients that they can’t be seen here, and we’re going to make sure that we, on an individual basis Ö help them decide where the best place for them to be is,” he said.

The faculty and staff members from the clinic will be staying at the school and bringing their experience to other clinics within the school, Gambucci said.

As for Gambucci, he will work with the predoctoral students in the Dentistry School.

“I certainly enjoyed my years here directing this program,” he said. “I believe I have a lot to offer to students Ö I feel like I’m going to be doing kind of the same thing, but just in a different environment. I’m pretty comfortable with this.”