Dentists train for special needs patients

By Patrice Walsh Margaret O’Brien has severe developmental disabilities. She wasn’t able to tell her sister when she had a toothache. Maureen O’Brien Chepiga said she didn’t know anything was wrong until her sister’s face swelled up. Margaret had to have five teeth pulled because of abscesses and must have been in terrible pain, but wasn’t able to convey that to her sister. Treating patients with special needs is challenging for dentists, according to Dr. Sean McLaren, a pediatric dentist with the Eastman Institute for Oral Health. McLaren said many may not be able to sit in the chair long enough to undergo procedures. Some can’t handle being sedated or even receiving Novocaine. Doctors are trained to use behavior modification techniques to calm patients down and administer treatment. But there aren’t enough dentists to provide this specialized care. Patients can wait six months and even up to a year for an appointment. The Institute received a $3.5 million grant, which will train more dentists and dental staffs to treat patients with developmental disabilities. The three-year program will begin next July. In the meantime, they are hiring more dentists and staff to ease the shortage. For Margaret, it was scary at first to be in the dental chair. But the hygienist calmed her down by singing ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.’ Ever since then, her sister said Margaret hasn’t minded the experience. Margaret faces multiple