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Bracing Life – Special Indeed!

One area that we have developed in our specialty practice in orthodontics over the last 15 years has been the treatment of children with special needs. This includes kids with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other types of developmental disorders. While being technically and logistically challenging from a treatment standpoint, these children have provided some of the most rewarding and fulfilling work we have ever rendered.

What makes these children so “special’? It is the unfiltered and pure essence these kids possess and exude. In our culture, direct connection without layers of pretense and masking to sift through first, is extremely rare. Not so with this population of children. It is a true privilege to encounter another soul so directly, openly.

All of which brings me to a conversation I had with a colleague years ago. I was speaking at a meeting about the need for more orthodontists to enter into special needs treatment and was asked the question, “Why bother? They don’t know the difference anyway.” I was truly taken aback. After my initial shock, my response was (and is when asked similar questions to this day – which sadly, still happens) that we don’t actually “know” what another knows at any given time. Improved function should belong to all patients (and parents who decide for their children) and the desire for improved esthetics can be an important part of self-esteem just as much for special needs children as the non-special needs population.

If it is possible to enhance breathing, chewing and oral hygiene, which reduces oral and systemic disease, ought we not to do it? Special needs kids have many times the number and severity of malocclusions than other kids. Less dexterity, complex homecare issues and other underlying health conditions are common. If we freely and unthinkingly offer these treatments to non-special needs children, then logic would dictate that it is even more important for the special needs child to receive this care. Why not help one who is dealing with a health deficit already in other ways?

All children deserve the care modern orthodontics can provide.


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