Beneath a ceiling tiled with cheery scenes, shooting stars and warm colors, a mother sits beside her daughter as the little girl gets her a dental check-up. In a nearby chair, a twelve-year-old boy has a small cavity filled. In an adjacent dental suite, another child has a baby tooth extracted. In this “room with a view,” quality dental care is provided to both healthy children and children with extreme medical challenges.
Parents take their children to practitioners of general dentistry for such routine procedures all the time, but the children under the cheerful ceiling are receiving their dental treatments at the Pediatric Dental Clinic at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children. According to Dr. Lubna Fawad, a pediatric dental specialist with the clinic, there is good reason:
“There are many differences between general dentistry and pediatric dentistry,” says Fawad. “A big misconception in the public is that children are just small adults, and treating them is no different. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There are numerous stages of child development, all of which affect not only a child’s behavior and skeletal growth, but also their teeth. Additionally, performing dental procedures on children who have serious medical conditions, where there is increased risk, makes the specialized training of pediatric dentistry exceedingly important.”
It is precisely these kinds of high-risk situations that the pediatric dental clinic stands at the ready to address – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Dr. Neva Eklund, Department Chair of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Dental Health at University of Mississippi Medical Center, helped to start the Pediatric Dental Clinic as well as the UMC School of Dentistry’s pediatric residency program housed within it. The clinic, founded in 2004, provides top-shelf medically integrated dental care for children of all ages and medical conditions, while the residency program, established in 2003, offers cutting-edge post-graduate training for dentists who want to specialize in pediatric dentistry.
Eklund states, “Students graduate from dental schools across the U.S. with the skills to treat about 80% of the children in the country. The other 20%, however, are children with complex health conditions that require specialized treatment. We offer pediatric dental care to healthy children, but we are especially prepared to take care of special populations that require rapid response, which is why we are in close proximity to an ICU, an OR, and an ER. All of our dental doctors in the clinic work in close collaboration with all other pediatric doctors at the hospital.”
A key figure in the development of the clinic was Dr. Owen Bev Evans, pediatric neurologist and department chair of pediatrics at UMC. Evans struggled for years to find a “dental home” for his patients – a consistent, continuous place where the children he treats with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders could receive a high standard of dental care. He hired Eklund, a graduate of the UMC School of Dentistry herself, who had returned to Mississippi after a pediatric residency in New Jersey, to provide pediatric dental services to his patients.
“At that time,” Eklund reflects, “it was a one-person operation. However, we had the ultimate goal of expanding the program, and this included expanding our capacity to provide the same pediatric dental care we were offering to Dr. Evans’ patients to all children. Thanks to Dr. Evans, Friends of Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network, and vital donations made by companies, private citizens and supporters of the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, the dream is now a reality.”
“The children just love the clinic. They love this ‘room with a view,’” says Sara Jane Doby-McCrary, Chief Resident, who is nearing the completion of her 24-month residency. “And, because we allow parents and caregivers to come into the clinic with the children, the whole environment is one that puts both child and parent at ease. Today we see both healthy children and children with complex medical histories, up to 5,000 clinic visits per year and up to 500 cases in the operating room per year.”
These astounding numbers will likely double in the next year, which is why donations are so vital for what the heroes do in the dental clinic at Children’s Hospital. Donations enable them to continue providing a standard of specialized care found nowhere else.