Bringing Basic Dental Care To All Of North Carolina

“It’s simply unacceptable in today’s society that people lack access to basic medical or dental care.”

Dr. Shaun Matthews, an associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, poses for a portrait at the UNC School of Dentistry on January 25, 2018, in the Koury Oral Health Sciences building in Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

“It’s simply unacceptable in today’s society that people lack access to basic medical or dental care.”

What if eating or brushing your teeth was almost impossible because of severe jaw pain or restricted mobility? Did you know that arthritis can affect the temporomandibular (TMJ) joints (those joining your lower jaw to your skull) like other joints in your body? Left unattended, severe TMJ disorders contribute to poor oral hygiene and health, tooth loss, malnutrition and other related but treatable maladies.

A nationally recognized treatment center for TMJ dysfunction or pain, UNC’s Adams School of Dentistry treats hundreds of patients annually, and it’s where TMJ expert Dr. Shaun Matthews practices, teaches and conducts research. A world-renowned leader in oral, maxillofacial and orthognathic (jaw) surgery, Matthews has been published in international journals, holds memberships in several prestigious professional organizations and boasts extensive practical and surgical experience.

One of fewer than 100 global experts in this niche specialty, Matthews combines medical and oral health expertise to add breadth to the dental school’s curriculum and deliver life-saving treatments and surgeries to patients across the state and beyond.

A huge advocate for expanding access to basic dental care to more North Carolina communities, Matthews is working to launch a tele-dentistry initiative to serve areas without basic dental care and augment those in other areas. “It’s simply unacceptable in today’s society that people lack access to basic medical or dental care,” he said. “While we’re working to expand facilities across the state, we want and need to do more. If people can’t come to us, we will go to them.”

An expert surgeon, gifted academician and caring clinician, Matthews is always looking for better ways to care for his patients and serve the community. He leads a collaborative clinic in pediatric rheumatology with UNC and Duke University to leverage the expertise of both universities in addressing the challenges of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis sufferers with TMJ complications. In addition to offering therapeutic options, including surgical jaw joint replacement, the clinic works to address the psychosocial needs of these patients up to and following surgery.

“My patients are my top priority, and these patients face significant challenges on many fronts,” Matthews said. “We are fortunate to have world-renowned experts here on our faculty and on campus to work with, as well as other experts just down the road. It’s a very dynamic, academically and medically enriching environment.”

As a medical doctor, as well as a dentist and oral surgeon, Matthews works closely with hospital personnel in the care of oral and maxillofacial surgery patients and others with face, mouth or jaw problems. “We work side by side with ear, nose and throat specialists, anesthesiologists, facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons, among other medical professionals,” he said. “I welcome the opportunity to work together in the hospital setting, as well as the clinical setting and hope to expand these opportunities to our residents in the future.”

Since joining the UNC Adams School of Dentistry’s faculty as a clinical associate professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, he has brought a wealth of clinical expertise and a love for teaching and mentorship that benefits every dental student. About coming to the School of Dentistry, Mathews said: “I was attracted to the position here not only by the quality of the facilities, which allow clinicians to deliver exceptional patient care, but also by the collaborative work ethic of colleagues across numerous disciplines from clinical to academic and research-focused personnel.”

Matthews came to Carolina from London, where he was a consultant at King’s College Hospital. A native of Barbados, he completed dental training in Scotland and medical school in London. He completed residencies in general surgery, general medicine and oral and maxillofacial surgery, including rotations through 17 different hospitals. He joined London’s Hammersmith Hospitals prior to his appointment at King’s College Hospital.

While at King’s College Hospital, Matthews’ interest in TMJ problems led him to create an interdisciplinary group with pain specialists, surgeons, psychiatrists, physiotherapists, restorative dentists, maxillofacial prosthetists and others to provide comprehensive care for this population. The only unit of its type in the U.K., Matthews aims to convene a similar group in the U.S.

“We are uniquely placed in the dental school to be so close to experts from across the health-care spectrum,” Matthews said. “Nowhere else can you find top medical and dental schools along with all allied health disciplines and a robust research enterprise.”

This is story number 187 in the Carolina Stories 225th Anniversary Edition magazine.

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