New dental clinic geared toward patients with disabilities unveiled in San Antonio

Phil & Karen Hunke Special Care Clinic at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry will train dental professionals, serve up to 40 patients a day

SAN ANTONIO – A new special care clinic at the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry is focused on getting patients with disabilities the dental care they often have trouble accessing.

The school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning for the Phil & Karen Hunke Special Care Clinic, located alongside the school’s Center for Oral Health Care and Research on Floyd Curl Drive.

The clinic will serve up to 40 patients with intellectual, cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities daily. It was named after retired pediatric dentist Dr. Phil Hunke and his wife, Karen Hunke, who provided seed money for the project.

The clinic’s inaugural director, Dr. Jennifer Farrell, said patients with special needs often have a hard time finding dental services. Dentists may not feel they can handle these patients, she said, and may not want to dedicate the time.

“I mean, just as of recent, I got a phone call about a patient in pain, and their dentist refused to see them. They said that they were already referred. And I mean, you know, that’s just not right,” Farrell told KSAT.

Trish Guerra, a UTHSA School of Dentistry employee, said she plans to bring her 11-year-old son, Brian, into the clinic for treatment. Brian has Down syndrome, she said. Before she started work at UTHSA, it was difficult to get appointments for him.

She estimated her son hadn’t “really seen a dentist recently, since he was 2 years old” and said she used to have to call ahead to ask if a dentist’s office could accommodate Brian.

“So where most parents would make one call or two calls to find a dentist of their choice, I’m making 10 or 12, if not more sometimes,” Guerra said.

The clinic was built to be accessible and comfortable. But Farrell said the gap in coverage for patients with special needs is more due to a lack of training than a lack of space.

Many patients with disabilities can’t articulate what’s wrong or why they’re afraid, Farrell said, and dentists aren’t usually trained to identify their behavior.

“We’re going to train students,” Farrell said. “We’re going to train dental residents and specialists to come in and treat these patients and recognize that a behavior is just a form of communication, and recognize that, perhaps, there are other ways to determine what teeth might be hurting, or how to get a patient to sit in the chair, you know, for an appointment.”

“If we can get more people trained and it becomes more of the norm rather than the exception, we’re going to have a large number of people’s needs met.”


A UT Health San Antonio spokesman said the clinic is still going through the process of intake and scheduling.

The clinic accepts Medicaid for qualified patients under the age of 21 and “select dental insurance,” according to a news release.

For information on scheduling appointments, visit the clinic’s website by clicking here or call them at 210-567-3783.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.

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