Oral disease is the top unmet health issue for children who have special health needs. A visit to the dentist can be a challenging experience for many children who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, craniofacial issues, and other physical concerns.

Parents of children who have a disability often struggle to find good dental care, and the dental clinic at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare is one of only three facilities in the metro area that is equipped to serve patients with disabilities. The team includes dentists, hygienists, and orthodontists who can provide sedation services, custom equipment, and in-depth knowledge of the dental issues facing patients who have disabilities. They help fill a gap in dental and orthodontia care - because these patients are not able to access care from community dentists.

The manager of the dental clinic, Denise Herrmann, says the clinic has had nearly 2,100 visits with Gillette patients so far in 2017. Dentistry and orthodontic services are primarily available to patients already receiving care at Gillette. The clinic now has five dental bays and one space without a dental chair so patients in wheelchairs can have access to the dentist. Two of the bays have electric lifts to help move patients in and out of wheelchairs.

Making visits as comfortable as possible for patients who can’t communicate pain or who have trouble sitting still, is a main priority for the dental staff, who will often calm these patients by using a special weighted blanket that acts as a sort of “hug,” Herrmann says.

Recently, the dental clinic was awarded a $20,000 grant from Healthy Smiles, Healthy Children - the Foundation of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Grant funds will go towards purchasing a set of dental equipment, which will allow more patients to receive care at the clinic.

"Our patients are our top priority. Thanks to this grant, we can expand our efforts in providing them with the excellent care they deserve," said David Collier, DDS, pediatric dentist.

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