New dental suite to benefit special-needs patients

By Paul Mayne
January 16, 2014

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GAPaul Mayne, Western News
Dr. Harinder Sandhu, vice-dean and Schulich Dentistry director, said the new general anaesthetic suite would allow the school’s dental clinic program to expand its scope of services for patients, especially those with physical and/or intellectual challenges.

A long wait may be coming to an end. And that’s something to smile about for thousands of patients in southwestern Ontario.

Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry is the first dental school in North America to be equipped with a general anaesthetic (GA) suite, allowing the school’s dental clinic program to expand its scope of services for patients, especially those with physical and/or intellectual challenges.

Wait times in hospital operating rooms for dental procedures for paediatric and special-needs patients can be from 14-18 months long, as these procedures are considered elective. This new suite will ensure prompt treatment, said Schulich and provincial officials at the clinic’s official opening Tuesday. 

“This facility will enable us to provide oral surgery and a wide spectrum of dental procedures for special needs, paediatric and geriatric patients and will be the only one of its kind in North America,” said Dr. Harinder Sandhu, vice-dean and Schulich Dentistry director. He hopes the facility will serve as a model for other schools.

“But more importantly, it will provide much needed dental care to special-needs patients and to children from low-income families with no access to dental coverage. This will improve not only their oral health, but their overall quality of life.”

The $2-million dollar suite features two operating rooms and six recovery bays, and at full capacity, will accommodate up to 60 patients a week. Located off the main adult dental clinic reception area in Schulich’s Dental Sciences Building, the GA suite also features barrier-free washrooms and a nurses’ station.

That’s all thrilling news for Maria Sinosic.

Sinosic’s daughter, Christine, who is mentally challenged, has always faced difficulties going to the dentist. Nothing was simple – even with Christine being able to tell her when she had a toothache.

“When it came time for her wisdom teeth to be removed, we had to go to the hospital, which produced some difficulties,” Sinosic said.

But the new clinic will provide amenities she never imaged possible.

“The doors here are wider and you can roll the wheelchair right in. Hooray,” she said. “That may be insignificant to the people who work here, but it’s not to the parents and caregivers who are the ones bringing their family members.”

With the Department of Anaesthesia & Perioperative Medicine providing support, the new suite will also provide dental students and residents with hands-on clinical experience working with special-needs patients.

A portion of the funding for the suite is provided by seven public health units in southwestern Ontario, led by the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Those patients under the Ontario Disability Support Program will also benefit from the new suite.

“We know good oral health is an important factor contributing to good overall health,” said Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. “This new dental suite will increase access so (these patients) can lead happy, healthy lives.”

Christopher Mackie, medical officer of health with the Middlesex London Health Unit, said oral health is more than just oral health, but that it affects the entire body.

“We’re really excited for the impact it’s going to have in the health-care community, in terms of reducing the burden on hospitals,” Mackie said.

Sandhu is hopeful the new suite will avoid an unfortunate incident he faced many years ago in dealing with a family with a mentally challenged 18-year old girl.

“I recall the father looking at me, with tears in his eyes, asking me to end his daughter’s (dental) suffering,” he said. “I will not forget the helpless feeling I had in that moment not being able to help her. They were not alone in this struggle.

“This (suite) grew out of a desire to meet a great need in our community. Our students’ education will benefit from this tremendously, but it will also be improving the life-long health of our patients. With this suite we will now be able to provide treatment to the people who previously had nowhere to come.”


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