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Dentist who "raised the bar" caring for autistic patient wins top award

Dr Gillian Smith painstakingly treated Neal Dhondt for four months, which meant he did not have to have surgery.

THE IMPORTANCE OF having a dentist who is able to make patients of all needs feel comfortable was underlined this week, when Dr Gillian Smith won an award for her work with a patient with autism.

Dr Smith, (27) is based on Bray seafront and provided Neal Dhondt with such great care that his mother Mary Dhondt nominated her for the award. Dr Smith was named Dentist of the Year 2012 by Sensodyne for her work with Neal, who she has a great relationship with.

Mary and Neal Dhondt

Mary Dhondt told the judges: “Our dentist saved my son with special needs from a traumatic hospital prcedure”. She explained that her son Neal (28) lives in a residence home midweek, and returns home to his parents in Dublin on weekends.

When he developed periodontal disease (gum disease), it was recommended that Neal be admitted to hospital for treatment under full anaesthetic. Neal and his family knew this was not the best approach for him, and luckily a coordinator at his residence home got in touch with Dr Smith about the situation.

Dr Smith looked after Neal over a four-month period, treating his gums segment-by-segment using nitrous oxide sedation and local anaesthetic. “If we hadn’t found Dr Smith, I just don’t know how we’d have got him treated,” said Mary, who said she admires Dr Smith’s professionalism and patience.

Dr Gillian Smith

For Dr Smith, treating patients with special needs is an important part of general dental practice, and a specially tailored plan is developed for each individual. She told TheJournal.ie that she was thrilled with the win, and had no clue Mary Dhondt had nominated her until she received the phone call saying she had won.

I hope that winning this award will raise awareness for parents with children with special needs, to show that they can be treated in their local dentist and how important it is. Patients with autism find it hard to communicate where they are experiencing pain.

Neal now visits Dr Smith every two to three months. “The first few times there wasn’t a word out of him. He understood it needed to be done. Now he comes in and is all smiles and hugs. It’s completely turned around,” said Dr Smith. “You do your best for every patient who comes through the door.”

Dr Andrew Bolas, President of the Irish Dental Association said that “it is particularly encouraging to see dentists raising the bar, as Dr Gillian Smith has done”.

The dentist who helped with a cancer diagnosis

Dentists play an important role in all parts of dental health – including spotting the warning signs of oral cancer. During a routine visit to Dr Hannah Flynn, a lesion was spotted on Gerald Griffin’s tongue. Dr Flynn, who was highly commended in the Sensodyne Dentist of the Year Awards, referred him straight away to their local HSE clinic in Tralee, where he underwent tests.

Linda and Gerald Griffin

It was discovered that Griffin had oral cancer, and he had half of his tongue removed. He also had some of his lymph glands removed and lost an eye due to an infection. Thanks to Dr Flynn spotting the lesion, he was set on the right road to diagnosis and recovery.

I know it sounds horrific, but I was so lucky as if it wasn’t for Dr Flynn’s detection, I would have lost the sight in both my eyes, all of my tongue and part of my throat. I am still able to tell my story – It’s really down to her I’m still here.

Dr Flynn was touched by the nomination, telling TheJournal.ie “it was a lovely thing for him to do”.

All dentists are trained to check for oral cancer and I’m just really glad that he is fit and well – it’s great to see him smiling again.

The dentist is also delighted to see him well for his partner Linda, given the tough time they went through. Griffin is monitored regularly in hospital and has given up smoking, much to his and Dr Flynn’s happiness.

Dr Flynn, who is based in Tralee at Flynn’s Dental Care, hopes their story will raise awareness of oral cancer and the role dentists can play in diagnosing it. “The success rate if caught early is good,” she noted.

Read: Dentists urge GAA refs and coaches to enforce new mouth guard rules with underage players>

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