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Our answer to the tooth fairy


Maria Savarin (left) and daughter Orianna appreciate Johnna Milne (right) and her colleagues at UBCH and the VGH Oral Health Centre for enhancing dental care.

We've all experienced it. That pit in your stomach when a dentist appointment looms. 

Going to the dentist can be nerve-wracking for many of us. For some adults with developmental disabilities, visiting the dentist can be next to impossible — until they meet Johnna Milne.

Based at UBC Hospital (UBCH), the dental program coordinator eases anxieties for special needs patients who require general anesthesia or sedation for routine hygiene and other dental​ care.

Patients like 18-year-old Orianna Savarin.

“Orianna really doesn't like going to the dentist," says her mother, Maria Savarin. “Everything from the lights and sounds and smells to the needles are very scary for her."

Referred to UBCH by the VGH Oral Health Centre, Orianna's unique needs and concerns were priorities that shaped her patient experience. Johnna ensured arrangements allowed for Orianna to enter the operating room accompanied her father and carrying her favourite comfort item.

Johnna's patient-centred focus, and the entire team's patience and flexibility, made a world of difference for her daughter, says Maria.

Exceptional care for everyone 

“One thing I learned very early in dealing with our patients is that you have to listen and establish trust," says Johnna.

Depending on the person, establishing trust may require interviewing a patient while on a stroll outside the clinic, or enabling a patient to enter the operating room wearing his street clothes. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, and success requires willing partners in care.

“From anesthesia to the OR group, I work with a great bunch of highly skilled professionals," Johnna says. “We see a really human side of people in the OR, and you can't be on autopilot. We need to dance with our patients to get things done."

It's the ability of our dental and perioperative teams to 'dance' with patients that's improving access to in-hospital dental care for medically complex people. Since April 2018, the VGH Oral Health Centre, where patients are initially assessed, has reduced its wait time by almost half — from 13 to 6 months — facilitating more timely dental care.

​For patients like Orianna, that's another reason to smile.

SOURCE: Our answer to the tooth fairy ( )
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