NYU Dentistry Convenes 2nd AHEAD Symposium on Access to and Care for People with Disabilities

Zoom recording of AHEAD Symposium

Click on the image above to view the Zoom recording of AHEAD 2022.



“Confidence, competence, and compassion.” These are three qualities dental providers need when caring for patients with disabilities, said Charles Bertolami, DDS, DMedSc, the Herman Robert Fox Dean of NYU College of Dentistry, speaking at the College’s second AHEAD symposium on April 5.

AHEAD — Achieving Health Equity through Access for All with Disabilities — brought a distinguished group of disability, health care, and policy experts to the table to “discuss the steps we need to take to further advance a more equitable health care environment for people with disabilities,” said Bertolami. Speakers addressed issues including barriers to accessing oral health care, reimbursement policy, and fostering a new generation of dental practitioners prepared to care for patients with disabilities.

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, a physician who has worked to expand resources for people with disabilities and increase access to oral health care, presented keynote remarks on the unique role that health care providers have in influencing policy. He acknowledged the challenges of translating technical and complex ideas to policymakers, but noted the important role that dentists can play in this regard, particularly given the trust they establish with their patients and communities.

Natalia Chalmers, DDS, PhD, the newly named Chief Dental Officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spoke in a second keynote address about oral health disparities and the need to include oral health in broader health policy discussions. She described looking at oral health through three lenses: equity, fiscal responsibility, and improving clinical outcomes by reducing inflammation. She also reflected on her personal experience treating people with disabilities and recognized the importance of caregivers, stating, “When we talk about care for children and adults with disabilities, we’re really taking care of the whole family, because their caregivers and parents are such an integral part.”

Next, a panel on reimbursement policy — focused on New York but with implications for states across the country — addressed the need to carve out a fair and sustainable policy predicated on value to the State. Speakers from both public and private insurers noted the opportunity to better align medical and dental reimbursement, which would benefit care coordination. An example would be using uniform diagnostic codes to allow for better integration of dentistry and medicine.

The final panel explored the creation of a universal curriculum for dental schools to prepare the next generation of dentists to provide care for people with disabilities. The speakers discussed the significant process made in the past few years since the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) began requiring that dental graduates be competent in assessing and managing patients with special needs — a shift from “should” to “must.” The NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities was described as both a clinical setting designed with this patient population in mind and a model for showing dental students that care for people with disabilities can be provided outside of a hospital environment.

The speakers also noted the importance of providing continuing education for practicing dentists who did not learn to treat patients with disabilities in dental school, but wish to build this skill set later in their careers.