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WVU School of Dentistry to expand pediatric clinic with aid of $50K Highmark grant

WVU School of Dentistry providers treat a patient in the pediatric clinic for Give Kids a Smile Day in 2020. The School is upgrading and expanding the facility in preparation for a new residency program.

WVU School of Dentistry providers treat a patient in the pediatric clinic for Give Kids a Smile Day in 2020. The School is upgrading and expanding the facility in preparation for a new residency program.

The West Virginia University School of Dentistry is upgrading and expanding its pediatric dental clinic in preparation for a new residency program that will help meet oral health care needs for a growing number of Mountain State children.

WVU received a $50,000 grant from the new Highmark West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health to support the expansion project, which will essentially double the existing treatment space to enhance care and education.

Gina Graziani, DDS

“It’s going to touch the lives of so many children and families by helping meet the dental needs they have,” said Gina Graziani, DDS, chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry. “An expansion means additional space for student, resident and faculty providers to administer care to younger patients. We continue to see an increase in the volume of pediatric patients who need emergency and comprehensive care. 

In collaboration with WVU Medicine, we will be able to provide same-day treatment options especially for urgent and emergent needs. When I think about improving the oral health of more children and in state of the art facilities, I’m beyond thrilled. I’m ecstatic!”

The School of Dentistry is working with the SmithGroup, an international architectural design firm, on plans for the pediatric dental clinic and other facility upgrades. The goal is to have the clinic work completed by July 2023, when the pediatric dentistry residency program is slated to launch.

WVU is currently seeking accreditation for the program, which will train three pediatric dentists per year to help meet the unique needs of West Virginia’s youngest patients. The state faces a shortage of pediatric dentistry specialists, yet research shows a rise in cavities among children, according to Graziani. While general dentists can treat pediatric patients, she noted that pediatric dentists have the specialized training and experience necessary to appropriately treat children who may be uncomfortable with dental care and/or have special needs, while also planning accordingly for future growth and development.

Graziani said the renovation plans will incorporate quiet rooms for children with sensory issues and larger rooms designed to accommodate wheelchairs, specialized treatment equipment, caregiver assistance and more.

The additional space will allow School of Dentistry providers to treat an estimated 116 patients per week, up from 77 currently, and increase WVU’s capacity to provide dental care for low-income, underserved, uninsured and underinsured patients – an important consideration for Highmark. WVU was among 20 West Virginia organizations recently awarded a total of nearly $1 million in grant funding.

“Highmark’s new West Virginia Charitable Fund for Health grant program provides critical support to West Virginia-based organizations that focus on oral health and dental care, particularly those that provide interventions in underserved areas of West Virginia,” Jim Fawcett, president of Highmark West Virginia, said. “We are looking forward to seeing the positive impact these grant funds will make in the lives of residents throughout the entire Mountain State.”

The expansion will also increase WVU’s capacity for pediatric sedation cases from two to six per week. Patients and providers must currently wait for available operating room space at WVU Medicine’s J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. Instead, the renovation work will add private rooms within the clinic to treat patients requiring conscious sedation.

The Highmark grant will be combined with private donations – raised via an ongoing $15 million capital campaign – to support the clinic expansion. The work is part of a multiphase renovation project that will radically transform outdated School of Dentistry facilities to reflect the quality of WVU’s top-notch oral health education and patient care. Updates to the Urgent Care Clinic, along with patient reception and waiting areas, were recently completed. The SmithGroup is conducting an assessment to determine the next phase of construction.

Highmark’s contribution was provided through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University. Alumni and friends interested in supporting the School of Dentistry renovation work should contact Director of Development Karen Coombs at 304-216-3784 or

About Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia:

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia serves approximately 246,000 members through the company’s health care benefits business and hundreds of thousands of additional members through the BlueCard® program. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of West Virginia holds the largest share of the commercial market, and more West Virginians carry a Blue Cross Blue Shield card than any other insurance carrier in the state. With offices in Parkersburg and Wheeling, Highmark West Virginia employs approximately 700 people and serves as a key economic driver in the state with its total economic impact reaching $262 million.

About Highmark Foundation:

The Highmark Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private, charitable organization dedicated to improving the health, well-being, and quality of life for individuals and communities throughout the areas served by Highmark Inc. and its subsidiaries and affiliates. We fulfill our mission by awarding high-impact grants to charitable organizations that implement evidence-based programs aimed at improving community health. Central to the Foundation’s mission is identifying and continuously re-evaluating our region’s prevailing health care needs. By doing so, the Foundation remains at the forefront of those needs, well equipped to pinpoint issues that most urgently need support. For more information, visit

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