South Florida

NSU Dental Students Learn to Treat Special Needs Patients

For decades, Ofelia Sherman-Hersman dreaded taking her daughter to the dentist. A simple cleaning often meant being put under anesthesia.

"We had to deal with vomiting, with complaining. We didn't know where it hurt," said Sherman-Hersman.

Dentists sedated Sherman-Hersman's daughter, Corina, because she's a special needs patient. 30 years ago, just days away from getting married, Corina, suffered severe brain damage after a car accident, leaving her paralyzed.

"We don't even know if she knows what is 'open your mouth' or 'move this way' or 'move the other way,'" Sherman-Hersman explained.

But she said the trip to the dentist is now a blessing ever since her family found Nova Southeastern University's Henry Schein Special Needs Clinic.

"It is priceless. There is no other place like it," Sherman-Hersman said.

At the clinic, dental students learn how to adjust procedures to accommodate patients' medical conditions and better understand their conditions.

Tagreed Alohali, already a dentist, traveled from Saudi Arabia for this training. She said she's excited to share this needed knowledge back home, but said more of this training is needed in South Florida to avoid the overuse of sedation.

"13 percent of the population are actually special needs. The number of facilities are less than four or five so they don't have a lot of places to go to seek this treatment."

Some families travel hours to get to the clinic.

"They can't believe what we're able to do. It's kind of amazing. To us, it's what we do every day. It's like shock and awe that you can break through these barriers and accomplish the treatment that's necessary," said Steven Ellen, Assistant Professor at the NSU College of Dental Medicine.

"This is the dental clinic that has the least amount of dentistry and the most amount of compassion," Alohali said.

Faculty said the most important lesson here is the value of kindness when it comes to delivering care.

"You have to convey the fact that your day just began because they came in. And even if they don't understand everything you're saying, they understand your body language. You represent a friend," Ellen explained.

About 5,000 special needs patients visit this clinic each year.

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