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Helping Kids With Special Needs Conquer A Fear of the Dentist

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Social Innovation Fund
A patient receives dental services at the Home of the Innocents, a Social Innovation Fund subgrantee of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

The Kentucky nonprofit, Home of the Innocents, provides dental services to children in state care, children with special health care needs, and other children and families served by the Home and its partner agencies.

The clinic's one-stop-shop model provides Kentucky families with a broad array of services under one roof; greatly improving the level of care available to populations that traditionally have trouble with accessibility and leading to better health outcomes for children.

The dental clinic is just one part of the Home's new interdisciplinary Hockensmith Pediatric Assessment Center and is managed via a partnership with the University of Louisville's Dental School, known nationally for its work training dentists to work with special needs children. The partnership is a win-win: dental students receive training and hands-on experience in the community; at the same time, families and children with special needs benefit from the services.

Another benefit of the Home's unique partnership is that the staff has been able to build such a level of trust with families who bring their children in for dental services that families are also accepting referrals to other services such as behavioral therapy and respite care.

By offering comprehensive dental services through the clinic, Home of the Innocents is increasing access to dental care and improving oral health outcomes for those with special needs. Already, Home of the Innocents is having great success with children and families accessing the clinic's services in the manner originally intended.

The following are several examples of how dental clinic patients are receiving a level of care not previously accessible to children with special health care needs. These successes are the reasons why the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky selected Home of the Innocents to receive a SIF subgrant.

One patient, who was distrusting of adults and had not seen a dentist recently, was very withdrawn as she came into the clinic. The dental staff found 16 cavities that needed to be treated and they worked with her to build trust and move forward with her treatment. The staff's efforts worked. Now, whenever she sees the doctors or clinicians, she lights up and says she wants to be a dental assistant.

Another patient had only received dental care via dental surgery, but his mother brought him to the dental clinic for an on-site cleaning and scaling, saving the family and child the stress of oral surgery and a potential trip to the emergency room.

Another young patient who has been diagnosed with autism was afraid of going to the dentist. Because the dental clinic is located on the Home's main campus, the patient's community-based worker was able to bring her by the clinic after hours to meet the staff and to see the physical space. The child was able to visit the clinic several times to acclimate to her new surroundings and eventually had a successful visit and cleaning.

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