This is a guest post by Dr. Michele Savel. Dr. Savel is a pediatric dentist practicing on Long Island, New York who has specialty dental training to work with children who have special needs. Dr. Savel worked with Autism Speaks to help create the Dental Toolkit. To learn more about Dr. Savel please visit: www.kiddsmiles.com.
Working with children with special needs started at home for me, having a younger brother who is on the autism spectrum. Because of my brother, I have always had a very good understanding for the issues that children with special needs face. I began working with children who have special needs while in my residency program in dental school. It was one of the most challenging aspects of my training in becoming a pediatric dentist but also one of the most rewarding.
Most people and even some dentists assume that these children cannot be treated in a regular dental office environment and therefore unfortunately many do not get proper oral care or they are immediately sent to the operating room to have their dental work done under general anesthesia and even sometimes they are placed in restraints. Of course there are still many children with special needs who we do need to sedate but there are plenty who with the proper approach can have their dental treatment done just like any other person or child.
The most satisfying part of my practice is when I can take a child who is totally opposed to the dentist and turn them around into actually liking the experience and successfully getting through a visit. A small thing like desensitizing children to the techniques that we utilize in the office is an easy way to get the children to feel more comfortable and thereby make them more cooperative. I often allow parents to take home some dental instruments so that they can practice with their children and make them feel more comfortable. I believe that all children aim to please and if you can get them to succeed even if it is only a small task it will open doors.
Children with special needs just need some extra TLC and patience to break through their walls of trust and once you’ve gotten through it is truly a most rewarding experience.