Clinic Provides Dental Services in MA

Linnea, Donna and Lori staff the new dental clinic

The Seven Hills Foundation and Tufts University School of Dental Medicine have collaborated to open a dental clinic for individuals with developmental disabilities at Seven Hills Pediatric Center in Groton, MA.

About 250 patients with physical and developmental disabilities have been treated at the Susan and Richard Smith Family Foundation Dental Clinic since it opened in May. Dr. Karen Chang, director, and a staff of three expect to serve about 600 developmentally disabled individuals in the region annually.

The dental clinic provides comprehensive services including cleanings, x-rays, fillings, periodontal treatment, root canals, prosthodontics and oral surgery for patients from age six months through adult years. Patients are usually seen four times a year, instead of twice, because their disabilities make it difficult to practice regular oral hygiene.

“It takes a special kind of person to work with this population,” says the clinic’s dental assistant, Donna, who worked for Developmentally Disabled Services (DDS) before training for the position.

“Not everyone can work in someone’s mouth, and not everyone can work with profoundly disabled people,” she said. “You’ve got to be open-minded, flexible and patient, and willing to learn how to communicate with people who have cognitive challenges.”

The staff focuses on accommodation as well as technical expertise because the patients may be confused or frightened about treatment. Collectively, they have nearly a century of experience and stay current with new practices in the field; for instance, a recent training involved protocol for seizures.

“Sometimes we need to desensitize the patient to new surroundings . . . a first timer might just watch TV in the waiting room,” said Lori, one of the clinic’s two hygienists. She says she will do whatever is necessary to make a client comfortable with treatment. “I’ve cleaned teeth with the client sitting on his mother’s lap, once even in the back seat of a car. Whatever works, I’m willing to do it.”

Linnea, the clinic’s office manager, said parents often leave the office in tears because they are so happy to finally find a dentist that can treat their children.

“They apologize over and over when a patient screams or moves around, but we understand. . . . They’ve had to fight for everything for their child, and then they find us, people who understand,” she said.

“They cry. We cry. We get lots of hugs,” said Donna.

To learn more about The Smith Family Foundation Dental Clinic call 978.448.3388 ext 354.