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Dr. Nigel Shaun Matthews from UNC’s School of Dentistry treats both adults and young patients with arthritis and other jaw-related issues.

“The condition that I see and I treat a lot is a condition called juvenile idiopathic arthritis,” Dr. Matthews said.

“It’s essentially a very aggressive form of arthritis in children under the age of 16 and that can really affect their lives tremendously.”

Because the condition affects how the jaw develops, Dr. Matthews said it can affect kids in a psychological way as well.

“For kids growing up, whether they’re toddlers, whether they are teenagers, whether they’re older teenagers,” Dr. Matthews said, “their appearance matters and it’s a big deal for them when they are mingling their peers and schoolmates.”

Dr. Matthews has also formed a collaboration that not only encompasses UNC, but the Duke dental school as well. The collaboration is based on a model of a similar clinic Dr. Matthews set up in the United Kingdom.

“It involves several disciplines,” Dr. Matthews said “So I provide a surgical input because I’m a surgeon.

“We have our pain specialist at the UNC School of Dentistry. We have the pediatric rheumatologists, both from UNC and Duke.

“We have our newer radiology colleagues whose job is to interpret the MRI scans that these kids frequently have to have to monitor their disease. We have by Dental radiology colleagues, and we also have a pediatric nurse practitioner.”

Since arriving at UNC, Dr. Matthews has been a strong advocate of teledentistry, which is a long distance diagnosis through camera devices.

“I think it’s fair to say that North Carolina is in the grip of an oral health care crisis,” Dr. Matthews said. “When we look at the figures within our state and the figures nationally, I think that clearly is the case.”

The purpose of teledentistry — a subgroup of telehealth — is to give patients an opportunity to be able to access dental care remotely so they can be seen and consult specialists who may live hundreds of miles away.

“We know that we have a hundred counties here in North Carolina,” Dr. Matthews said “Three of those counties have no dentists at all. Something like most of our dentists are concentrated in a fifth of the counties in North Carolina in the urban areas. So you can see why so many people within our state are disadvantaged.”