Frontline Initiative Healthcare

Dental care:
A necessary part of a healthy life

“My son wears that helmet because in the past several months he has begun banging his head on walls,” a mother explained. She must have seen my startled look as they entered the office. This was my first appointment with this young man. From his intake form, I knew he had developmental disabilities and was non-verbal, but there was no mention of a helmet. In the few seconds it took to form that first impression, several possible reasons for the helmet had crossed my mind, but the identified behavior was not one of them. The mother continued, “His doctors have not been able to identify a cause for this change in behavior, but wearing the helmet will at least provide some protection for him.” We continued with the examination, and found lots of work to do. He had not been seen by a dentist for a very long time, and treatment would require several visits. At the last appointment, all was finally looking good. We scheduled his next visit for a check-up and cleaning.

Thinking I wouldn’t hear from the family again until I saw them at the next appointment, I was surprised when, after a week or so, my receptionist asked me to take a call. It was the mother. She had some exciting news to share about her son. “A few days after his last appointment with you my son stopped banging his head! Dr. Pavasko, do you think that the dental problems you fixed for him could have had anything to do with his behavior?” I replied that while I couldn’t say for certain, there was a good chance that his dental condition would have caused intermittent, if not constant pain. Banging his head could have been his only way of communicating the seriousness of his condition. The mother was so thankful that so much had changed for the better for her son. Every time I see these folks at an appointment, I can’t help but recall our first meeting. I will remember it forever. 

Studies have shown a direct link between a person’s dental health and their overall physical condition. 

Studies have shown a direct link between a person’s dental health and their overall physical condition. We now know that chronic dental problems, left untreated, can lead to serious physical complications. Just like the mom who had a loving and close relationship with her son, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) have that same close relationship with the individuals they support. That relationship allows them to identify even the most subtle changes in an individual’s condition and behavior. DSPs bring great value to the healthcare community through observation of, and interaction with, the individuals entrusted to their care. That’s great news because, just like the young man I was able to help because his mom identified the dental problems and brought him to me for treatment, DSPs have the same opportunity to make a difference in the lives they touch every day.

David H. J. Pavasko, DMD, was the recipient of the 2011 AAIDD Service Award for his commitment to providing specialized quality dental care for individuals with disabilities. Dr. Pavasko is a dentist in private practice in Murrysville, Pennsylvania since 1980. He is the Dental Director for Accessible Dental Services, Inc., a unique, non-profit organization in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area that provides specialized, quality dental care to individuals with disabilities. The alleviation of pain, improved dental care, and comfort that he has brought to individuals living with developmental disabilities is both noteworthy and remarkable.