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Dentistry for the neurodiverse

At the Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity, Dr. Chantal Czerednikow uses techniques such as music therapy, patient-guided sensory integration and more to help patients with special needs during treatment.

Headshot of Chantal Czerednikow

Named in memory of an inspiring and beloved community leader, mentor, and first President of the McGill Young Alumni Association, the James G. Wright Award recognizes young alumni who have demonstrated exemplary service to and made a difference in their community.

The recipient of this year’s James G. Wright Award, Dr. Chantal Czerednikow, DMD’13, Cert in Gen Prac Residency’14, fits this description to a tee. She exemplifies this resilience and strength of character through her work in the community employing a specialized approach to treating underserved patients with neurodevelopmental disabilities, and as an educator inspiring the next generation of dental professionals to continue working towards building a healthier future for all.

Thanks to Dr. Czerednikow’s dedication to underserved patients, the Faculty of Dentistry has recently launched the Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity. This one-of-a-kind clinic provides specialized treatments for a neurodiverse patient population, and stands as a flagship clinic in special care dentistry across Canada for McGill.

As the staff dentist in the Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity, Czerednikow remains a leading practitioner in special care dentistry, and is ensuring that her exemplary service and dedication to serving patients with special needs has a lasting impact.

“I’m honoured and very grateful for the recognition,” Czerednikow noted. “Receiving the award means that the clinic has grown to a point where it is noticed by the community and I hope that this will help to build more awareness and advocacy towards dental care for adults with neurodevelopmental diversity.”

In her role as the primary dentist at the Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity, Czerednikow uses techniques such as music therapy, patient guided sensory integration, nitrous oxide sedation, social stories and pictograms depending on the patient’s reaction to dental care. Her adapted approach has enabled many patients to accept dental treatment without the use of general anesthesia. Listening to the family and finding out what calms or triggers the patient is an integral part of the approach at the clinic.

Running this clinic has caused me to evolve not just as a dentist, but also as an advocate.”

Adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities are gravely underserved due to the lack of dentists trained in the area. Simple dental care issues can lead to systemic health problems and challenging behaviour, making routine treatments available and accessible to adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities all the more important.

Czerednikow was shocked when she first learned of the statistics on the number of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities and the poor access to care they have, especially when they reach adulthood. “At the time, I knew it wasn’t easy for people with special needs to find a dentist,” she notes, “but I had no idea it was so difficult in almost every other aspect in their life.”

Czerednikow’s passion for special care dentistry developed through her experience in the Faculty of Dentistry’s Summer Clinic – where dental students treat children with disabilities – and then as a resident at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. But the challenges and opportunities presented by the Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity are equally great.

“Running this clinic has caused me to evolve not just as a dentist, but also as an advocate. I have learned so much about the challenges the patients and their families face regarding accessing health and dental care. I am trying to do what I can to reduce this inequality in access to care.”

But becoming the primary dentist at the Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity did not happen overnight – nor in one place. In fact, the lack of specialized dental care for neurodiverse populations is the result of a demonstrable absence of training in special needs dentistry.

My vision is to have special care dentistry taught in more depth to students in dental, hygiene and assistant schools.”

After finishing her DMD in the Faculty of Dentistry in 2013, Czerednikow went on to complete a veritable world tour in specialized oral health care to receive mentorship and accreditation. Following a residency in the Montreal Children’s Hospital, she completed a mini-residency at the Lee Specialty Clinic in Kentucky, then completed a diploma in sedation for special care dentistry in France, all the while connecting with international experts in special care during workshops and conferences in Dubai, Ireland, Iceland, and Chicago.

Today, Czerednikow is bringing her expertise as one of the world’s most qualified practitioners in special needs dentistry back to McGill in hopes of making a major difference in the lives of neurodiverse patients and their families. She’s doing so by treating patients that require special care on a daily basis, but she is also sharing her knowledge and expertise with other practitioners in hopes of bridging the gap in available special care training that made her trip around the world necessary. The Oral Health Clinic for Neurodevelopmental Diversity was created as a comprehensive hub for training in special needs dentistry.

“My vision is to have special care dentistry taught in more depth to students in dental, hygiene and assistant schools,” she notes. “The techniques that I travelled the world to learn are not extremely difficult to master, but students must be exposed to the variety of approaches in order to see what can be possible and have the confidence to try the techniques themselves.”

Czerednikow’s skillset is unique, and her dedication to the communities she serves has earned her the James G. Wright Award. Yet being unique in this sense isn’t her goal.

“I do not want to be ‘one in a million’ because that is not what will help more patients access dental care. The skill set used to serve patients with special needs, which I call my ‘toolbox’–because there are such a variety of techniques to use in different contexts—should be accessible to more oral health professionals.”

“I believe the partnership with the Faculty of Dentistry is very important to building future generations of dentists with the ability to provide dental care for people with neurodevelopmental diversity.”