Dugoni among first dental schools to train students on treating people with disabilities
University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry is a pioneer in teaching future dentists how to treat patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities or other issues making it difficult for them to access care.
The efforts are led by Professor Allen Wong, director of the school’s Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency programs who was named an advocate hero by the magazine Exceptional Parent, which focuses on the community of disabled people and their families.
While other dental schools are starting to teach the treatment of these patients, the Dugoni School has done so for 15 years. The curriculum includes teaching minimally invasive techniques and different approaches, such as spending the first 10 minutes of a visit getting acquainted with a patient to develop trust or dimming the lights to help individuals with sensory difficulties.
Some patients travel more than 100 miles to be seen at the Dugoni School's Special Care Clinic, which offers a full range of dental services to patients with medical and psychosocial considerations.
Volunteering for the Special Olympics drew Wong into his advocacy work and exposed him to the inequities in dentistry. He is active with the Special Olympics Special Smiles program as one of the two global clinical advisers. He also is president of the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry and member of the Special Care Dentistry Association.
“What drives me is seeing this injustice and bringing awareness to it,” he said. “I want to help make a change to improve health care—that’s my passion.”
Wong is helping the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry develop a curriculum that all dental schools can implement.
“It is very gratifying to do this work and to be able to share my experiences nationally and internationally,” Wong said. “It brings me joy spreading that (knowledge) because other people are starting to adopt it.”
Dean Nader Nadershahi said Wong “has touched the lives of so many people by educating practitioners and providing humanistic care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Wong completed his undergraduate degree in biology on Pacific’s Stockton Campus before graduating from Dugoni, completing his dental residency with Pacific and earning a doctorate from the Gladys L. Benerd School of Education (now Benerd College).
This fall, Wong is helping plan a national meeting at Pacific to teach educators, higher education institutions and other groups on the topic of treating patients with disabilities.
In March, Wong helped organize a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The event was one of the first vaccine clinics organized specifically for this community by any dental school in the United States.
Providing the COVID-19 vaccine to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities was of special significance to Wong, who in August as a front-line health care worker got infected with COVID-19. After a month of being in the intensive care unit and barely escaping with his life, his resolve deepened.
“I'm not here forever,” he said. “Who is going to take care of these patients after I'm gone? I'm even more passionate that we need to spread the word faster, sooner and to greater audiences. Dean Nadershahi has given me a platform to help train more dentists.”
Wong previously held an all-day session with about 100 faculty members where he brought in physicians in developmental medicine and a panel of Special Olympic athletes to educate faculty on what they can do to address gaps in care.
If students are not encountering this population in dental school, the chances are they are not going to do so in private practice, Wong said.
“We have to teach the teacher and train the trainers,” Wong said. “We need to think differently. It’s a matter of treating the person, not just the teeth.”