Those struggling through the jungle of special needs dentistry have a chance to make a real difference, Special Olympics Global Clinical Advisor Dr. Steven Perlman told 75 people at the first Community Planning Workshop at Eastman Dental.
I’ve taken that chance,” he said, “and while I may not have changed the world, for some people I changed their day, I changed their pain and their appearance, and changed their belief that finding someone who cared enough to try was not impossible.”Perlman likened dentists who serve those with special needs with pirates, sharing a quote from the late Steve Jobs that “it’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”
“Being a dentist in the rough waters of caring for people with unique distractions, unique behaviors and unique orientations is more like being a pirate than being a naval officer,” he said.
“We’re pirates, we’re rogues and renegades,” he added. “We didn’t initially sign up for that role but the profession forced it upon us. Being a pirate works best when the rules and regulations don’t permit you to navigate unchartered waters without the support of a fleet you had hoped would be behind you. But when it comes to dealing with arrogance, indifference, injustice and neglect in caring for people with complex dental needs being a pirate is the perfect persona.
“Dental education has ignored this population. Many of our colleagues have never experienced the joy and the rewards of treating patients with disabilities. Many of our colleagues will never see the expression of thanks on the eyes of someone who cannot say it any other way, or not feel the scintilla of knowing that they and they alone stopped to flow of psychotropic drugs erroneously prescribed to stop the sudden onset of self abuse when all it took to stop it was to curtail a brewing or sinister oral problem that no one though to find.
“Many of them may never see the joy on the face of parents when you smile and say, ‘Of course I’ll treat your child,’” he added.
“Go forth and save their smiles…perhaps beginning with a commitment to save one.”
Eastman Institute for Oral Health received a grant from the Golisano Foundation to undertake what is believed to be the first comprehensive survey of dental needs, including access to care, for people with developmental disabilities in a five-county region. For more information, visit: www.urmc.rochester.edu/dentistry/developmental-disabilities/
About the Speaker:
Dr. Perlman then started Special Smiles, a dental screening for athletes at one Special Olympics event in Boston. Today, Special Smiles screen athletes at 220 events in 100 countries, where they collect data to address this critical public health concern.
This started because John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary Kennedy had developmental disabilities. Their sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, brought public awareness to developmental disabilities, and founded Special Olympics. However, Rosemary’s dentists wanted to take out all her teeth, but Eunice was against that and asked Dr. Steven Perlman to treat her. Dr. Perlman was able to restore them.
Today, Dr. Steven Perlman is a Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry at The Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine. For the past 35 years, he has devoted much of his private practice as well as his teaching, to the treatment of children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Dr. Perlman is a past president of both the Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities and The Massachusetts Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. He is a Fellow of The Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities, a Fellow of The American College of Dentists and a Diplomate of the American Board of Special Care Dentistry.
Dr. Perlman is a cofounder of the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD) and in 2005 and 2006 served as an advisor to the President’s Committee for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. He is currently president-elect of the AADMD.
He is the recipient of the Harold Berk Award from the Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities and the Manny Album Award from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Both awards are the highest honors of the organizations recognizing lifetime achievement in the care of people with disabilities.
In 2010, Massachusetts Special Olympics honored him with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver “Let Me Be Brave” award at a banquet honoring his achievements.
In 2005, Dr. Perlman received The Exceptional Parent Maxwell J. Schileifer Distinguished Service Award for dedication to improving the lives of individuals with special needs and disabilities as well as The Trudi Birger Community Service Award from Alpha Omega for extraordinary contribution to children with special needs all over the world.