An alumna of the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine (CDM) has given a $1.5 million gift to name a special-needs dental center in the school's new clinical building. The gift also will establish an endowment for the center.
Pamela M. Kaminski, DMD, MUSC CDM Class of 1989, is a board-certified pediatric dentist in Grants, N.M., where she sees many patients with a broad spectrum of physical, mental and emotional disabilities. She said that, on the whole, too few dentists have been trained how to address the secondary challenges that can accompany such conditions.
"Many of these patients have very specific needs in terms of medication, anesthesia and the manner in which they're treated," she said. "Unless they've been trained in these areas, very few dentists are going to be fully prepared for the challenges that come with treating someone with, say, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome."
In recognition of these challenges, the CDM designated 1,500 square feet in its new clinical education building to teach and practice special-needs dentistry.
CDM Dean John Sanders, DMD, said that there's a huge demand for added capacity in this field. About 14 percent of children in the United States have special needs, according to a 2005-2006 survey by the National Survey of Children with Special Care Needs.
"Some of these patients come to us with physical disabilities that make it difficult just to get them in a chair," said Sanders. "Others have mental or emotional problems that create a very high level of anxiety, which makes it difficult for them to remain still or seated for long."
When the Pamela M. Kaminski Center for Special Care Dentistry Center is complete and fully functional, it will include four operatories equipped with chair lifts and other amenities designed to facilitate special-needs patient care. The endowment, which will be funded through Kaminski's estate, will be used for outreach-related programs or to provide treatment for special-care patients. In addition to its expanded clinical capabilities, the space also will bring new depth to the college's educational program.
"Right now, dental students get relatively little exposure to these cases on a regular basis," Sanders said. "This center will allow us to bring together what are now independent pockets of clinical expertise and integrate them into our core curriculum, so that all of our students receive special-needs experience as part of their training."
Kaminski said her gift allowed her to advance two longtime passions: her alma mater, and serving a group of people she describes as one of the most vulnerable and underserved populations of patients out there.
"I have been looking for a way to give back to the institution that took me in and made so many things possible for me. I've also spent most of my career caring for special-needs patients," she said. "When I went back for my 20th reunion in 2009 and heard about the college's plans for serving these people, I knew right away I wanted to be part of this center. For me, the decision to become involved was very easy."