Six-year-old Jackson Thompson used to get so upset when he saw someone wearing a white coat or hospital scrubs that medical appointments were stressful for him, his parents and his medical providers. Adopted from China in 2015, Jackson had multiple medical needs including cleft lip and palate when he came home to Richmond.
His parents, Keith and Susan, who also have a 7-year-old son with cleft lip and palate who is followed through Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s (CHoR) Center for Craniofacial Care, brought Jackson to the Center’s multispecialty clinic soon after returning to Richmond. Jackson became more stressed every time he met a new specialist – until he met William O. Dahlke, Jr, DMD, Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Pediatric Dentistry.
“Dr. Dahlke just looked like a dad,” Susan recalled of how he was dressed in a shirt and tie. “He did whatever Jackson needed to feel comfortable including playing music and giving him more time for the exam.”
One of the specialists on the Center for Craniofacial Care’s Cleft Lip and Palate Team, Dr. Dahlke initially provided routine dental care to Jackson, who has autism and feeding difficulties, in the operating room under general anesthesia because of Jackson’s fears. Within six months, Jackson was able to receive care outside of the operating room through the dental clinic on CHoR’s MCV Campus.
“The key to working with Jackson is to adapt to whatever behaviors will work best for him and make him the most comfortable,” said Dr. Dahlke. “I always avoid wearing scrubs or a white coat and will do my exam in any location that he is willing to let me. That may be in the dental chair, sitting in his mother’s lap or even sitting on the floor.”
CHoR’s seven pediatric dentists provide routine and specialized dental care to children from birth to age 21 at CHoR’s MCV and Brook Road campuses. Early next year, the MCV Campus clinics will move to CHoR’s Children’s Pavilion, which will be more convenient for patients who need to see multiple specialists during one visit and offer onsite parking. With this move, Dr. Dahlke said he expects a 20 percent increase in Pavilion clinic visits, which currently average 13,000 a year. The current location also averages 350 operating room cases a year. Proceeds from the 2018 Children’s Hospital Foundation Ball in November will fund new dental exam chairs and equipment in the new Pavilion space.
“Without the support of Children’s Hospital Foundation, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for us to move to the Pavilion,” said Dr. Dahlke. “The support is critical for us to be able to expand access to and ease of obtaining dental care for Virginia children.”
Seven of the Thompson’s 18 children receive routine dental care through CHoR’s Dental Program. Susan said she appreciates that multiple children can be treated during the same visit and that dental team members can communicate with other CHoR specialists as needed. (Many of the Thompson’s children have been adopted, and some have medical needs beyond dental services.) In addition to receiving dental services, Jackson and his 7-year-old brother, Samuel, are followed by other CHoR specialists including otolaryngology (ENT), speech, plastic surgery and orthodontics. Their 14-year-old brother, Jacob, is followed by eight CHoR specialists including hematology/oncology, allergy, cardiology and pulmonology.
“All of the dental staff are great about helping with the other kids when we are there,” Susan said. “They will talk to some while others are being treated, and they allow Samuel to go first to make Jackson feel more comfortable before his exam.”
Jackson is an energetic kindergartener who loves to run in his family’s Hanover County yard, paint and play with magnetic blocks. He enjoys snuggling with his older sister, Grace, uses sign language to communicate and flashes a bright smile when asked how he feels about Dr. Dahlke. Over the years, Jackson has received dental sealants and routine cleanings at CHoR. He hasn’t had any cavities, but if he does, Dr. Dahlke will be ready.
“It takes time, patience and a true desire to treat each child in the way that is best for them,” said Dr. Dahlke. “Individualized care is something I strive for in caring for all of my patients. The technique of ‘Tell, Show, Do’ is critical for most children, and it works very well with Jackson. I go slowly and show him everything before I do it.”