For many parents, taking their children to the dentist isn’t something they look forward to.
There’s the search for a practitioner who accepts your insurance, a dental practice with a good reputation and the child’s dreaded temper tantrum.
For parents of autistic children, the stress of those complications is compounded by the search for a dentist who is willingto treat the patient. The process is involved and often includes some rejection, since many health workers are either reluctant to treat autistic children or are quick to resort to general anesthesia or restraints. Some dentists choose to refer these cases out because they are often more time consuming, which inevitably cuts into production rates and profits. But for others, the overall goal is to fill a need in the industry and to capitalize on one’s skills.
For Katy dentist and Kidstown Dental owner Amy Luedemann-Lazar, it was her early exposure to treating children on the autism spectrum that drew her to pursue this subspecialty.
Dr. Luedemann-Lazar treated many special-needs patients when she first became an attending at a local practice. She notes that the owner of that practice made it a habit to send autistic patients her way, making her uniquely attuned to their needs.
“I didn’t have exposure [to autistic patients] at all during training, but in residency you’re exposed to all sorts of children,” Dr. Luedemann-Lazar says. “At the time I went through residency– 2005 through 2007 — there wasn’t behavioral management techniques except for using restraints.”
The Katy native says that since her time at the University of Washington School of Dentistry’s pediatric dentistry program, it has become increasingly conscious of this niche field. Now, instructors there — like at many other dental education programs – are joining the trend of healthcare workers who are trained in treating autistic patients.
She explains that there is a higher need for this sort of medical care in Katy because more on-the-spectrum children live there. Experts estimate that it’s because parents of autistic children are drawn to Katy Independent School District (KISD) schools and its acclaimed special education programs. So while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 Katy children are affected, Katy Autism Support Group reports that it’s 1 in 55 for KISD students.
For her practice, Dr. Luedemann-Lazar has had to avail herself of specialized training – dubbed the D-Termined Program – at her practice. This includes a ban on the use of restraints unless there’s an emergency.
“It’s my practice philosophy, ” she says. “I don’t own a papoose.”
The dentist acknowledges that many parents of autistic children are often so overwhelmed with their children’s other needs, that dental care is more of an afterthought than a priority.
This could lead to more complicated dental cases. In a New York Times article last week, Catherine Saint Louis reports that “some parents took their child with autism for a first cleaning only at age 8 or later, and others only went once there was an emergency.”
That’s why Dr. Luedemann-Lazar warns against delaying visits to the dentist, especially for a special-needs patient.
She advises, “The earlier the better.”