When a child has special needs and can’t communicate clearly, sometimes the 24/7 job of caring for him or her means oral care is far down on the list of daily duties.
To help, dental surgeon and Summerlin resident Dr. Steven Delisle, who owns the Children’s Dentistry locations in Southern Nevada, has launched Saving Smiles. It’s a free program that awards scholarships to select patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities and who need restorative dental services. This scholarship is vital, Delisle said, because young patients on Medicaid lose preventive and restorative dental benefits when they turn 21. The program ensures special-needs patients are not left with neglected dental work that could later lead to debilitating pain.
Delisle, a dentist since 2007, began the scholarship three years ago. It awards $1,500 to accepted patients once a quarter, and he is looking to get the word out.
“I cater toward special-needs patients and I saw the need,” he said. “They’re kind of an ignored class of dental patients, but I realized that … up until 21 they have really good dental coverage and once they turn 21, we would see those patients just opting for extractions. It’s the only option covered by the state.” Extractions can cost $200 per tooth.
Delisle said he has pulled as many as 30 teeth for a client. Pulling multiple teeth is not uncommon, affecting patients of all ages.
Most of the scholarships are for fillings and crowns. If the cost goes beyond $1,500, the office will prioritize the most urgent need. Fillings typically cost $159-$200.
Shanti Coleman takes care of her son Kalanie, 23, who is developmentally disabled. She said she tries to get him to the dentist once a year, but every visit requires sedation, as “he won’t let you get into his mouth. … He’s nonverbal, but he can eat and feed himself.”
She learned about the dental program when Delisle appeared on a local TV program. It came at just the right time.
“It means a lot because it’s hard with Medicaid only paying for so much,” Coleman said. “A lot of (Kalanie’s dental care) has to come out of pocket.”
Some of those who receive scholarships have autism, others cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.
Delisle said he’ll always remember a teenage boy who had to have all his teeth pulled because they were so decayed.
“They weren’t able to be saved, so here’s a young person who has to have dentures before he even turned 21. That’s the kind of thing we try to prevent,” he said. “It makes you sad. They’re special needs. They don’t know enough to take care of their own dental care, so the responsibility is often pushed to their care provider. … These patients tend to fall between the cracks.”
Contact Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.
To learn more about the scholarships offered by Dr. Steven Delisle, call 702-832-0508.