For anyone, the sound of a drill or the sight of the dental equipment can lead to tapping feet or deep breaths of anxiety, but the UAB Civitan-Sparks Dental Clinic seeks to make that experience a bit more tolerable for those with unique needs.  Although it may be tucked away in busy downtown Birmingham, Ala., the impact of this dental clinic is apparent once anyone walks through the doors.

“To our knowledge, UAB Civitan-Sparks Dental Clinic is the only clinic in Alabama exclusively treating the population,” Dr. Stephen Mitchell, co-director of UAB Civitan-Sparks Dental Clinic said. “Over the past several years, our patient population has grown significantly, and we remain extremely busy. We see patients of all ages who have an intellectual or developmental disability.”

The UAB Civitan-Sparks Dental Clinic specializes in providing safe, quality dental care for individuals who lack the developmental and cognitive abilities to understand or cooperate to receive traditional dental treatment. Civitan International is a proud supporter of the Civitan International Research Center, which supports the UAB Civitan-Sparks Dental Clinic through charitable funding.

Dr. Kimberly Carr, co-director of the clinic, shared her love for caring for their patients.

“We are doing this because it’s something we love to do,” she said. “Some parents and caregivers have cried just because they are so grateful to get the care they need for their loved one.”

Services offered at the clinic include routine preventive care (i.e., exams, cleaning, fluoride treatments, radiographs), fillings and simple extractions. Surgeries with some general anesthesia are done at Children’s of Alabama, also in downtown Birmingham.

Dr. Carr said it seems dental care is often forgotten, but it is essential to good overall health. Patients sometimes are left with out-of-pocket expenses due to lack of medical benefits.

Program Coordinator KeKe Cooper sat at the welcome desk wearing a jacket bearing the slogan “Touching Lives, Changing Futures,” but it only took a few moments of speaking with her to realize these were more than words on a piece of clothing.

“We do a lot of ‘tell-show-do’ with our patients, and we also have a papoose board to use, if needed, that helps to limit movement during the exam,” Cooper said. This process involves telling the patient and caregiver what they are going to do, showing them and then performing the procedure.

Cooper and Dr. Carr shared how some patients have driven from various parts of the Southeast for care. The clinic is seeing around 16 patients a day and, because the need is so great, it is booking appointments about six months in advance.

While autism is a common diagnosis of clinic patients, staff see patients with all types of intellectual and developmental disabilities and of various ages. Additionally, the clinic offers valuable experience to the dental residents of UAB School of Dentistry to prepare them for the next steps in their career.

One of the hopes of clinic leadership is to one day purchase new dental chairs and units for the clinic. The clinic currently has two chairs, both of which are more than 20 years old. Initial quotes to replace both chairs have soared over the past few years due to supply chain issues and the cost is estimated to be nearly $100,000.

While Cooper says there isn’t any magic in what the staff does for their patients, one secret to their formula is the fact it is done with love. 

“Sometimes our patients might just need a hand holder to get through their exam and we will do that too. I feel like my patients are my babies,” Cooper said.

We are grateful for the charitable giving of our Civitan members so we can continue to support initiatives like this through the Civitan International Research Center.