News Release

U of M receives grant to improve care for dental patients with complex conditions

Image of a person’s hand in a blue surgical glove accepting a dental tool from another person.
Credit: University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

The Special Healthcare Needs Clinic (SHNC) at the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry has been awarded a Clinical Dental Education and Innovations Grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, which will support technological and facility needs to improve efficiency in diagnosis, treatment planning and increase accessibility for patients. 

SHNC focuses on providing comprehensive dental care for older adults and patients with complex medical conditions, developmental disabilities and physical disabilities. 

“Providing care for medically complex and special needs patients is a bit like playing football in a snowstorm,” said Stephen Shuman, a professor and director of the Division of Hospital and Special Care Dentistry and Oral Health Services for Older Adults program. “You have the same basic rules, but it’s harder to score points and run plays and there can be more slips and fumbles. The best team still wins based on their skill, experience, persistence and creativity — that’s what I see in the clinic, too.” 

The clinical space required updates in imaging and other equipment to properly function for comprehensive general dentistry. The $100,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health will allow the clinic to house its own panoramic X-ray and other imaging units, adding accessibility for patients in wheelchairs while also creating efficiency in diagnosis and treatment planning. 

The clinic is continuing the previous work of the General Practice Residency (GPR) and the Walker Methodist Dental Clinic, both of which relocated to the school in 2023. The transition led to a powerful concentration of faculty and staff who are experts in complex patient care and aim to establish the clinic as a crucial part of training for all future oral health care professionals. 

“This kind of care used to be considered an elective experience, but there is so much need in the community for these services,” Shuman said. “Practitioners need to have experience with patients who have complex health conditions. We want to make sure students continue to be trained to meet the needs of all of their patients.” 

The grant will also support the School’s ability to bring more learners into the SHNC — a team whose value he sees both as a clinician and as a member of the community. 

“The students we’ve seen rotate through so far have gotten immense value from the experience, and I look forward to making this rotation available for all our students,” Shuman said. “When you’re providing dental care for someone who has not been able to get dental care anywhere else, or so they can safely get a heart valve replacement or an organ transplant, it’s hard to beat that feeling. We are making a big and immediate impact on people’s lives.” 


About the School of Dentistry

The University of Minnesota School of Dentistry advances health through scientific discovery, innovative education and the highest-quality care for all communities. As the state's only dental school, the School of Dentistry educates the next generation of oral health professionals and is a resource to five states for dental education and consultation. Of Minnesota’s practicing dentists, 72 percent are graduates of the dental school. Through its clinics, the School of Dentistry also sees more than 156,000 patient visits each year. Learn more at