Commitment and Transformation

Jaime’s birth was a time of excitement and uncertainty for his young parents. He was born right here at Miller Women and Children’s Hospital in 1998. An otherwise healthy and vocal baby, his parents soon noticed that his left cheek was growing larger than the right side. One of our pediatric dentists referred him to the hospital’s Hematology and Oncology department for further evaluation. The diagnosis was something all parents dread- Jaime had a tumor on his upper left jaw (maxilla), and it should be removed as soon as possible. So, at age one, Jaime had a large portion of his left maxilla resected. Though all of the tumor was successfully removed, it affected his developing primary teeth and also disrupted the genesis and growth of his permanent teeth in this area.

Here at the Children’s Dental Health Clinic, we have a committed team of dental specialists that helped Jaime maintain proper dental function and aesthetics through his child and adolescent years. Ultimately, seven of his permanent upper front and back left teeth did not develop in the affected area. At age 13, our orthodontic team guided his occlusion (bite) and helped correctly position his remaining permanent teeth. During this time, he wore a retainer-like appliance that replaced the missing teeth. Jaime never missed an appointment and brightened the day of all staff that worked with him. We are in our final year of working with Jaime as he will soon turn 22. He now has a custom cast partial denture that replaces the defect from his infancy. He’s quick with a big smile and not afraid to show it as he is finishing school working as a bartender.

 It remains a joy to work with Jaime and his family. His parents and our staff were committed to see him grow and develop with functional and aesthetic teeth. Many of our dental team members have been blessed to see a shy, fearful yet tenacious child, transform into a confident and spry adult. Each patient we treat has a story to tell and we are here to listen and help. Every smile given or received transforms and welcomes others. It is an honor to be part of this wonderful team, committed to building and maintaining smiles.

An Unforgettable Smile

It was late on a Monday afternoon and already the day had turned into a classic mix of regularly scheduled patients and emergency patients waiting to be seen. Our staff dentists and residents were all impacted and the clinic was humming with activity.

Danny, a 16-year old autistic new patient was in the room with his somewhat distraught mother. I introduced myself and asked how I could help. Danny immediately said “I don’t like you,” to which his mother jumped in to apologize for his outburst. She said that Danny had had some prior “bad experiences” in the dental office. I answered Danny with “I do not yet know you, but I hope we can be friends.” A puzzled Danny said nothing and continued to fidget as I spoke with his mother and determined that he had some sort of broken and perhaps infected lower right tooth.

Near adult autistic patients can be a handful- just ask their parents. They must be approached with a direct, honest, firm yet caring approach. Our clinical staff is remarkable and effective. I knew that I would need a few X-ray images to determine what was going on with Danny’s lower molar. Two of our dental assistants gently coaxed Danny into helping with our “pictures” of his lower right teeth. They produced two excellent and revealing X-rays. Danny did indeed have a large cavity on his lower right 1st molar. The X-rays also revealed evidence of an infection related to the broken-down tooth.

Due to his medical condition and behavior, we knew that we would only be able to safely treat Danny under some form of sedation or general anesthesia. As a hospital-based non-profit program, we have good working relationships with the anesthesiologists and operating room schedulers. We informed them of Danny’s situation and urgent treatment needs. With a bit of nudging (and a little luck), we were able to schedule Danny for treatment later that week. Danny was successfully treated under general anesthesia; we were able to save his lower right molar, completed other needed fillings, and thoroughly cleaned his teeth. We saw him back in the clinic a few weeks later for a post-operative check. This time, Danny greeted me with: “I had a hamburger!” a thumbs-up, and a big, unforgettable smile—he could now eat without pain!

Many of us, thankfully, have not had to live with and try to eat with chronic dental pain. Like Danny, many of our patients live with this pain, but have trouble articulating its origins. Danny’s mother mentioned that, once his teeth were fixed, he ate better, slept better and was more attentive at home and in school. All of our staff come to work every day for patients like Danny. When a reluctant patient smiles, we all smile.

Our team is passionate about our work and we are committed to professional service. We participate on committees in multiple professional associations in order to advocate for our patients and incorporate the latest practice improvements into our clinic.

Dr. John Blake, our Executive/Dental Director, has been a staunch advocate for critical improvements to the Denti-Cal system. To learn more, read Dr. Blake’s key testimony that was incorporated into the Little Hoover Commission’s report “Fixing Denti-Cal” issued in April 2016.