Airman provides special needs dentistry

  • Published
  • By Sara Francis
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
A 96th Medical Group dentist goes beyond the usual check up with some of the dental clinic’s youngest patients. He specializes in medically fragile and special needs pediatric dentistry.

Lt. Col. Clayton Hicks, 96th Dental Squadron pediatric dentist, has a unique practice. Hicks services a niche patient population frequently underserved and often in need of dental therapies that have medical considerations.

“I pursued training in pediatric dentistry because I felt my personality fit with the skill set to meet kid's needs,” said the South Carolina native. “I really enjoy the challenge of helping kids and parents discover their children can develop into confident, cooperative children who then become adults who value their dental health.”

Hicks completed the Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency here in 2002. After several years of general practice, he completed for a post-doctoral masters in pediatric dentistry at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. The specialized training involved a large portion of medical training and advanced dentistry.

“[Pediatrics is] not a specialty of procedure, it’s a specialty of age,” said Hicks. “We do a little bit of everything: we might do root canals, take out teeth and do crowns or orthodontics. It’s more intensive on what is developing right now [for that child].”

Maj. Helena Swank, 96th Medical Group dentist, agrees with Hicks’ approach to pediatrics. She sees that role as pivotal in the future of someone’s dental health.

“Pediatrics is unique because children cannot be treated as little adults,” said Swank. “There are behavioral and anxiety issues that are specific to a pediatric population. When dentists do not manage that well, we see adults with fear and apprehension of the dentist.”

While the Air Force has nearly 900 dentists in its ranks, only 20 specialize in pediatrics. Out of the 20 active duty pediatric dentists, Hicks is one of only a few to service special needs children.  His practice ranges from children with complicated hearts, lungs and suppressed immune systems to children with developmental delays like autism.

“That is the medical part of my training,” said Hicks. “While we are going to use local anesthetic to treat the tooth pain free, we have to think about what effect that has on the rest of their system.”

One of the main considerations for these children is their condition dictates treatment. This means a condition that normally calls for a root canal in a healthy individual might mean a complete tooth removal instead.

“If a child is going through cancer therapy and they are immuno-suppressed, they are susceptible to infection,” said Hicks. “There are certain risk/benefit treatments we would recommend for healthy children that we wouldn’t recommend for a child with a suppressed immune system.”

For the 17-year veteran, each case is different. Two children may have the same needs, but the therapies or treatments can vary drastically based on their health and level of cooperation.

“Their medical diagnosis and developmental age make all the difference in what procedures and treatments I can do,” said Hicks.

Most of his patients are referred to him through developmental pediatrics and family medicine, as well as specialists or dentists from the local community. Hicks has to gather recent and historic medical information for a patient to determine what dental options are available for each child based on their condition and development.

“You want to make sure whatever you are doing isn’t going to cause another problem,” said Hicks. “You want to keep them trending in the right direction.”

Due to the limited pediatric program stateside, the clinic only takes patients by referral. Normally patients are identified through outreach clinics or by medical care providers. The clinic is not accepting by appoint patients at this time. Please ask on-base health care providers if your child would be a candidate for the program.