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J Dent Educ. 2005 Aug;69(8):912-8.

Improving patient retention and access to oral health care: the CARES program.

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CARES Program, Department of Pediatric and Community Dentistry, SUNY, Buffalo, NY 14214, USA.


Improving access to dental care for patients experiencing barriers such as financial, transportation, or mental health is a public health concern. Dental schools have an obligation to assist patients experiencing such barriers as well as to educate future dentists and allied professionals on how to assist these patients in overcoming barriers. Once admitted to the dental clinic, retention issues can further complicate the provision of dental care. This article will describe an innovative program designed to address biopsychosocial barriers to dental care. Needs assessments of patients sitting in the waiting room of the dental clinic were conducted by master's of social work (M.S.W.) students. Based on needs assessment results, common dental care barriers were identified and served as the foundation for the establishment of a social work program in the dental clinic. Dental students, faculty, and staff refer patients to the social work program when barriers to care are found. These biopsychosocial barriers are addressed by social workers, uniquely qualified professionals in providing case management, advocacy, referrals, education, and services (CARES). Over the course of three years, 80 percent of patients experiencing an identified barrier to the receipt of dental care were retained through social work intervention. These patients were able to receive dental care within the past year. Dental schools can collaborate with social work schools to establish a protocol and assistance program for dental patients experiencing difficulty accessing care, thereby improving oral health status, retention rates, and dental student education.

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