The joys and challenges of special needs dentistry

19 November 2020
A dentists mission to achieve oral health equity

Dr Avanti Karve has always had a passion for helping people with disability and vulnerable populations. She was Sydney's first graduate in special needs dentistry and now teaches into the program as an honorary lecturer.

Whilst Dr Avanti Karve experiences the joys of managing medically complex patients, approaching her 10-year milestone as a special needs dentist, the sector faces a long-standing practitioner shortage.

As the first graduate of the Doctor of Clinical Dentistry (Special Needs Dentistry) at the University of Sydney, Avanti is on a mission to close the oral health gap between patients with special needs and the general population, advocating for the sector, her patients and for more dentists to undertake specialist training in special needs dentistry (SND).

She says she was originally drawn to specialty because of the crossover between medical and dental work, but it's making a difference to her patient's lives and overall health that really drives her.

"Seeing a phobic patient successfully access dental care in a supported environment, coordinating a hospital visit for someone with challenging behaviour or improving quality of life for an elderly patient with tooth pain are some of the joys," she explains.

She believes a mistaken belief that all SND patients need to be treated under general anaesthetic and that it’s all too hard, puts some practitioners off entering the field. However, you only have to look at her career success to see what the sector has to offer.

In addition to being the practice principal at Mind Body Teeth, Dr Karve has appointments with the University of Sydney and Sydney West Local Health District.

As a lifelong learner, Avanti is committed to advancing the sector through teaching and research. She coordinates the University of Sydney postgraduate special needs dentistry program and has influenced changes to the core dentistry syllabus to ensure disability units are included.

She says studying SND at the University of Sydney provides students with access to the most complex patients through the University's clinical schools, as well as research opportunities across a range of disciplines.

For those considering a career in special needs dentistry, Dr Karve says navigating the challenging interface of medicine and dentistry in medically complex patients makes it an interesting and rewarding choice.

Interested in specialising?

The University of Sydney School of Dentistry offers a range of clinical programs for dentists with at least two years of experience working as a general dentist. Specialist courses include:

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