Riley’s family put a pause on the dental work he needed after he was diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that developed inside multiple tumors near his lungs.
The then-13-year-old’s port for chemotherapy and other drugs increased his risk for infection, so the dental work, including extractions and fillings, were delayed until the port was scheduled for removal in the operating room.
There, on the same day as the port removal, Dr. Ray Jurado, Head of the Division of Dentistry at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, was able to extract Riley’s last baby tooth and fill his cavities, all while Riley remained under general anesthesia.
“It was such a relief to know he was getting this crucial part of his treatment taken care of by one of the best, and in the same setting where he was getting his treatment for cancer,” said Riley’s mom, Rachael.
Dr. Jurado, like all dentists at Lurie Children’s, completed a residency in pediatric dentistry following graduation from dental school, which trained him to comprehensively manage patients of all ages with special needs. Dentists trained in hospital-based residencies, as Dr. Jurado was, are able to effectively manage the oral health of patients with complex medical conditions.
Furthermore, patients with multifaceted dental treatment needs, such as severe dental caries or abscesses, and patients who have special needs and are unable to tolerate in-office treatment, are ideally treated under general anesthesia in one sitting.
“General anesthesia allows for safe, high quality, long-lasting treatment without the psychological trauma of being restrained,” said Dr. Jurado. “The hope after treatment is to allow for gentle adaptation to the in-office environment as the child gets older and develops trust with the dentist.”
Having witnessed Dr. Jurado’s careful work and kindness with Riley, Rachael decided to bring her 8-year-old son, Payton, who has autism, to see Dr. Jurado, too. After struggling to find other dentists who could or would treat Payton, finding capable doctors at Lurie Children’s was a great comfort, she said.
Dr. Jurado and staff helped gently walk Payton, then just four years old, through all the steps of his needed treatment, demonstrating and explaining the equipment with him before using it for his care. The approach worked well, Rachael said, and even helped encourage her son to take better care of his teeth back at home.
“They made him not afraid of the dental office,” Rachael said. “It’s amazing.”
Dentists who have not had consistent or regular experience or success with children with special needs may not be comfortable with treatment planning or management for this population, Dr. Jurado said.
“Caring for children with special needs requires experience in this area and access to hospitals that provide general anesthesia,” said Dr. Jurado.
Riley, who is still undergoing treatment for cancer, but graduated early from high school in the spring and will attend the University of North Texas to study software engineering, said he will never forget Dr. Jurado’s expertise and care.
“He made me feel like family,” said Riley. “I always felt like he was there because he cared; it wasn’t just a job for him.”