Dental clinic caters to special needs

The Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic is designed to make dentist visits as fuss-free as possible for its special clientele. For instance, it features a wheelchair tilting system which allows the dental team to treat patients in their wheelchai
The Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic is designed to make dentist visits as fuss-free as possible for its special clientele. For instance, it features a wheelchair tilting system which allows the dental team to treat patients in their wheelchairs, and every room is equipped with a dental X-ray machine.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

A dental clinic set up for seniors and people with special needs was officially opened at the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) yesterday.

The Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic, located at the Singapore General Hospital's Outram campus, sees patients with complex oral health conditions and who typically also have behavioural issues.

For instance, patients with Parkinson's disease may have trouble brushing their teeth, while many of those with autism get easily agitated by dental care.

The new clinic, which started operations last September, is the first of its kind in Singapore. It has seen more than 4,000 patient visits to date. Patients are generally referred from polyclinics or hospitals.

The clinic is designed to make dentist visits as fuss-free as possible for its special clientele.

"For example, for the less mobile and frail patients who have difficulty being transferred to a dental chair, the wheelchair tilting system allows the dental team to treat the patients in their wheelchairs," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who spoke at the opening.

Every room is equipped with a dental X-ray machine so that patients do not need to travel to another part of the building.

In addition, general dental radiography and surgical procedures that require only local anaesthesia can be done within the clinic.

Madam Theresa Khoo, whose husband had a stroke more than 10 years ago and now uses a wheelchair, started visiting the centre last year. She finds the wheelchair- friendly dental chair a great help.

"If he falls when I transfer him to the dentist chair, he might also crack the equipment," she said.

"(The chair) is a lot of help, both for him and for me."

Geriatric and special care dentistry is an emerging speciality, but one in which there are many unique needs, said Associate Professor Poon Choy Yoke, who is the director of NDCS.

"It's not just the dental treatment delivery, which all of us have," she explained. "These special patients need a lot more explanation and patience, and sometimes maybe multiple visits because you need to win their trust a little bit at a time."

Mr Kiran Raj, 21, has developmental delay due to epilepsy. Before he started monthly visits at the clinic in January, he had never seen a dentist. His mother, Madam Jothi Marimuthu, had heard "nightmare stories" from other parents of special needs children. Even at home, she struggled to help him brush his teeth.

"He would refuse to open his mouth and make all kinds of noises, and he used to be so agitated," recalled the 46-year-old.

His dentist at the new clinic took the time to calm him down, and even played his favourite music to help him relax. Madam Jothi is confident that her son is in good hands.

"He can't express pain or tell you where the pain is," she said. "But now I know that if there's anything wrong with his teeth, the dentist will let us know."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Dental clinic caters to special needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe