BOISE, Idaho — Your Special Smiles is not your typical dentist office.
In fact, it's not really an office at all. The staff actually travels to homes and hospitals in the Magic Valley - taking all their equipment with them - to provide dental care for special needs patients in a comfortable environment.
Dr. Brooke Fukuoka visited KTVB's News at Noon on Tuesday to talk about her unique practice and to provide dental care tips for caregivers of people with special needs.
Your Special Smiles contracts with group homes to provide care for patients in the comfort of a familiar location.
"We get a little bit better behaviors that way sometimes because people are more comfortable in that environment," Fukuoka said.
They also work with local hospitals to provide comprehensive dentistry under general anesthesia for people who can't safely receive treatment when they are awake.
Working with patients who have a wide range of special needs presents certain challenges for Fukuoka's staff.
"The biggest challenge when people have special needs is that they don't always understand what they're there for and that we're there to help them," she said. "So just establishing that rapport and that trust with the patient, that's an obstacle that's a little bit bigger for us, and that's the first thing we focus on."
Another big part of Your Special Smiles is educational outreach - providing tools for other dentists and caregivers with the hopes of improving access to care and to promote better daily hygiene at home.
According to Fukuoka, prevention is key for people who have special needs. She often recommends cleanings and fluoride every three months if the patient shows to be high risk for oral disease.
"Prevention is so much easier than treatment and it is our goal to minimize invasive treatment by maximizing prevention," she said.
Here are some tips that caregivers can do at home to support good oral health care:
- Create a routine to help the person who has special needs become more comfortable with regular dental hygiene.
- Implement a healthy reward system. Offering candy or soda as a reward creates unhealthy habits for the mouth and body. Instead of sweets, try rewarding with activities and experiences to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
- There are plenty of tools to help caregivers as they improve oral healthcare routines for the person they are caring for, including a three-sided toothbrush can make brushing quicker and more efficient for the non-cooperative patient; and a bite stick is useful to keep the patient’s mouth open so they won’t bite on the toothbrush.
RESOURCES FOR CAREGIVERS
According to Fukuoka, the best resource for caregivers is your current dentist. Many Idaho dentists accommodate patients who have special needs.
When scheduling an appointment with any dentist, make sure to address what special needs are present in order for them to accommodate. To find a great dentist in your area, use the Find-a-Dentist tool.
Fukuoka says it's important to keep the dentist as a positive experience. Remind the patient that this will be fun, and if you are nervous, send someone else with them to their appointment.
You can find more helpful links and information on the Your Special Smiles Facebook page.