SCOTTSDALE, AZ — A new, non-profit Phoenix dental clinic is hoping to help train aspiring dentists and offer a vital resource for patients with physical or intellectual disabilities.
“We’re here to just be a starting point,” said Dr. Jacob Dent, a dentist at the Pacific Dental Services Foundation’s ‘Dentists for Special Needs’ clinic off Bell Road near Tatum Boulevard.
PDSF estimates there are around 52 million people in the U.S. living with a disability, including 600,000 in Arizona. From their research, “only about 10 percent of [dentists] are actually willing to see someone with special needs,” Dent said, especially patients with a condition like autism or Asperger's syndrome.
The clinic, which just opened late last month, allows new patient families to spend an hour becoming acclimated to the environment with no other patients in the office. Younger patients begin their visit in a “sensory room” filled with toys and items to help them adjust. The clinic has a special x-ray machine that can scan a patient’s mouth without them having to put anything inside. One exam room has no dental chair — instead, a mat to sprawl out — and another is equipped with a velcro restraint, if needed, to prevent a patient from reaching their mouth during an exam.
“The goal for this is we’re trying to avoid having to do a sedation,” Dent said, which can be harmful over time. Dent, who has a 15-year-old son with autism, said families are often forced to make yearly visits to the hospital for a simple teeth cleaning.
“Teeth are teeth,” he said, “anybody can treat teeth but [this] is treating the behaviors, treating the family as a whole.”
Dent said PDSF is working with local dental schools in the Valley to offer students a chance to train at the office with special needs patients.
“My personal goal with this is, at some point and time, maybe somebody who I help train...will be someone who takes care of my son when I’m not here,” he said.
For more information, you can visit the clinic’s website.