All Smiles: A New Special-Needs Dental Clinic

vcu school of dentistry

VCU School of Dentistry students already receive some training at partner sites in the community, and a new clinic at the school will help them gain confidence when providing care to patients with special needs.

By Holly Prestidge

Photos by Daniel Sangjib Min and Tyler Trumbo

“When do we get kicked out?”

The heartbreaking question was a familiar one to Roger Wood, D.D.S. 

He had heard it over and over throughout his decades as a pediatric dentist from desperate and weary parents of children with special needs. These parents were used to hearing from service providers, educators and countless others that their kids would eventually age out of services, as if the children’s needs somehow lessened when they turned 12 or 17 or 21. 

These parents assumed Dr. Wood would cut ties, too. 

They were wrong. 

Not only did Dr. Wood embrace his patients with special needs into their teens and adulthood, establishing a “practice within a practice” just for them at his dental office in Midlothian, but he and his wife, Karen, are now working to ensure future dentists are positioned to do the same. 

The couple is leading the charge to establish the Wood Special Care Dentistry Clinic within the VCU School of Dentistry. The clinic, scheduled to open this fall, will provide training and exposure to patients with special needs for dental and dental hygiene students. It also will serve as a much-needed care provider for the special-needs community. 

In expanding our ability to care for these folks, our community will benefit, and our students will gain experience they will carry throughout their careers.

Lyndon F. Cooper, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry

In addition, the clinic has the potential to integrate other MCV Campus resources, including social work and occupational therapy, to provide a multidisciplinary, patient-centered approach to care that extends beyond dental needs. The effort to create the clinic is being further bolstered by an unrestricted bequest from the estate of the late David Childress, D.D.S.


Roger Wood, D.D.S., whose Midlothian-based pediatric dentistry practice became a welcome place for patients with special needs, is leading efforts to create the Wood Special Care Dentistry Clinic at the VCU School of Dentistry. 

Dr. Wood grins a lot. His good-natured personality is infectious. He retired during the COVID-19 pandemic after more than 40 years as a pediatric dentist, and in those years, his practice welcomed everyone.  

He wore cowboy boots in the office, and he recalled how his youngest patients would do the same when they came in for appointments. 

“I love working with kids,” Dr. Wood said. “It’s fun — I’m a hyper person, and that worked well for me.” 

That wide grin fades, however, when he talks about the special-needs community.

Unlike other dental specialty areas, pediatric dentists are well suited to help children with special needs, he explained, because with children, gaps in development among those with special needs and others are not as wide. Problems begin as the children grow up, however. 

Many pediatric dentists stop seeing patients with special needs when they reach teen years because the dentists don’t know how to adapt to challenges of their size and disability as they age into adulthood. That, and they prefer to avoid disruptions for other patients if the patients with special needs are loud or become physically challenging. 

“It takes a long time to see an adult patient with special needs,” Dr. Wood said. “As they age, they get stronger, and you have to know what you’re doing and like what you’re doing.” 

He became an inclusive service provider, he said, simply because he said “yes” to inquiries from parents when other dentists did not. 

“There are not a lot of places they can go,” Dr. Wood said about older children and adults, noting that by the time he retired, nearly one-third of his time was spent caring for patients with special needs. As a former chief of dentistry at Johnston-Willis Hospital, he explained that if his patients needed dental work under sedation, he had access to the hospital’s operating room. 

One of those patients was Christopher Carroll. 

Christopher, now 27, has cerebral palsy, is legally blind and is deaf and nonverbal. 

His mother, Nora Carroll, recalled that Dr. Wood was highly recommended to her years ago, and despite a 30-minute drive, Christopher and his two younger siblings were patients of Dr. Wood for nearly 20 years. 

“When Christopher was young, the difference between a neurotypical child and a child with special needs wasn’t so large,” Carroll said. “But as he got older, the gap increased, and Dr. Wood adapted to all those different needs.”

Carroll said Christopher’s patience with his dental appointments decreased as he got older, so his appointments were moved to a private room with fewer distractions. More assistants were needed to physically help Dr. Wood. 

On one occasion when Christopher needed a tooth extraction, Dr. Wood did so at the hospital so the young man could be sedated.

“It was fantastic and made the process so easy,” she said. 

Now she’s not sure what the future holds.

Since Dr. Wood retired, Carroll has not found a dentist who has hospital access to allow Christopher to be sedated for deep cleanings and other dental needs.

“The pediatric dentistry world is helpful,” she said, because pediatric dentists understand the guessing game that parents of children with special needs experience in trying to determine why their children, even those who are nonverbal, are sick or cranky. “But doctors rely highly on feedback from adult patients, and when they can’t get that, they don’t know what to do.”


Students learn how to provide oral health care to residents at the Virginia Home as one of several service-learning sites affiliated with the VCU School of Dentistry. 

The Wood Special Care Dentistry Clinic will be located on the first floor of the Lyons Dental Building near the dentistry school’s valet parking entrance, improving convenience for patients. It will be a quiet space, away from the hustle of the school’s existing dental clinic, so families and patients have privacy and wheelchair accessibility. 

Lyndon F. Cooper, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry, said VCU has a responsibility to care for all patients and to teach future oral health professionals how to care for a diverse population. He said the school’s recent efforts to increase access to care coincide with the Woods’ vision. 

“Fortuitously, the school’s intentions intersected with Dr. Wood’s passion for providing care to patients with special needs,” Dean Cooper said. “In expanding our ability to care for these folks, our community will benefit, and our students will gain experience they will carry throughout their careers. We are extremely grateful for the Woods’ gift, which holds the promise of remarkable oral health care for those who previously had little opportunity.”

Dr. Wood, now an affiliate faculty member at the School's Department of Pediatric Dentistry, will teach in the clinic. It is yet another example of the commitment he and his wife have made. For years, the Woods participated in Missions of Mercy projects through the Virginia Dental Association Foundation and partnerships with the VCU School of Dentistry. Those projects provide high-quality dental care in areas around the state that lack sufficient dentists. 

“Our hope is that enough students go through the   program so they’re comfortable with patients who have special needs,” Karen Wood said. “Then they have the heartstrings to help these people.” 

Dr. Wood echoed those thoughts. 

“I had a very successful practice for a long time because of people who supported me,” he said, referring to both longtime patients and staff. “The clinic is a good way for me to give back.” 

Jeff Johnson, D.M.D.

Jeff Johnson, D.M.D., chair of VCU’s pediatric dentistry department, credited the Woods with thinking outside the box to create a synergy with other specialties that could offer additional services for patients while they are on the MCV Campus — everything from therapy to transportation and social services. 

“Dr. Wood’s life legacy has been about providing care for people who wouldn’t otherwise get it,” Dr. Johnson said. “With the Woods’ leadership and guidance, we’re breaking ground on a transformative experience for patients, for dental students and every learner in this building.” 

If you would like to support the VCU School of Dentistry, please contact Gloria Callihan, the school’s associate dean for development and alumni relations, at 804-828-8101 or


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