A peer-reviewed journal that offers evidence-based clinical information and continuing education for dentists.

Transforming Urgent Dental Care: VCU’s Innovative Approach to Emergency Dentistry


Unfortunately, it is common in the United States to find people suffering from serious dental problems — from gum disease to wisdom teeth impaction — who don’t have the funds or the ability to get to a dental office. And when issues — such as an abscessed tooth — worsen, life-threatening infection can set in. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Dentistry’s Urgent Care Clinic in Richmond is trying to turn this tide.

Addressing Immediate Dental Needs

The VCU Urgent Care Clinic, established in 2017, has been pivotal in addressing urgent dental health issues in the region, according to a recent article posted on VCU Health. Chad Lockhart, MHA, FACHE, who took over as president of VCU Dental Care 10 months ago, has been instrumental in further enhancing the clinic’s operations. His hands-on approach, which included talking to patients in early morning lines, revealed the high demand for emergency dental care and informed changes to streamline patient care.

Lockhart and his team set an ambitious goal to see every patient on the same day. By improving registration processes and triaging patients more effectively, they managed to reduce wait times significantly. This focus has led to a 43% increase in walk-in volume over the past year, demonstrating the clinic’s growing capacity to handle urgent dental cases promptly.

Innovative Solutions for Dental Emergencies

One of the clinic’s notable improvements includes the implementation of a pre-triage process at check-in. This system directs patients to the appropriate clinic or oral surgery, optimizing care delivery and increasing overall capacity. For instance, the Oral and Facial Surgery Clinic saw a 166% increase in cases last July alone, thanks to this improved triage system.

To further enhance accessibility, the clinic is piloting a novel scheduling system. Developed with their electronic health record provider, this system includes a QR code and mobile app for priority scheduling. This innovation allows patients to book appointments conveniently, receive confirmations via text or email, and have their medical records readily available, reducing the need to queue outside the clinic.

Enhancing Patient Experience and Education

The clinic also serves as an important educational platform for dental students. Under the supervision of faculty, students gain invaluable experience in a fast-paced, real-world setting, preparing them for their professional careers.

The clinic’s focus on compassionate and systematic care is particularly crucial for patients covered by Medicaid, who often face barriers in accessing dental services. VCU School of Dentistry, being the largest provider of oral healthcare for Medicaid-insured patients in Virginia, plays a significant role in bridging this gap.

Broader Impact on Community Health

Beyond immediate dental emergencies, the clinic’s efforts are crucial in addressing broader oral health issues, including gum disease. Regular and timely dental care, facilitated by the clinic’s accessible services, can help prevent and treat gum disease, contributing to better overall health outcomes for patients.

Dean of the VCU School of Dentistry Lyndon Cooper, DDS, PhD, underscores the importance of the clinic as a “safety net” for patients struggling to access dental care. The hands-on training provided at the clinic ensures that VCU graduates are among the best-prepared new dentists in the country, with 97% passing their board exams on their first try.

VCU’s Urgent Care Dental Clinic exemplifies how targeted improvements and innovative solutions can transform emergency dental care. By addressing immediate needs and facilitating ongoing care, the clinic not only alleviates pain and suffering but also promotes long-term oral health in the community. Click here to read more.

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