Innovative & Inclusive: Dental Tech Training for People with Intellectual Disabilities

It’s well known that employment rates are low for people with disabilities. The employment rate is especially low in medical and other professional fields. That’s why a new initiative in Louisiana and Texas is so innovative.
Ethan in the dental office standing by the equipment.

In 2019, Dr. Jacob Dent, Smile Generation-trusted dentist in Louisiana and Texas, helped open the Pacific Dental Services Foundation Dentists for Special Needs office in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. A few months later after a cancer diagnosis, he came up with the idea of creating a Special Needs Dental Assistant Tech Training Program in his Smile Generation-trusted dental offices. Dr. Dent’s son Ethan, who has autism, was a major inspiration.

“I wanted something I could teach my son and other kids on the spectrum to do as a career that allowed them to utilize their strengths—and not limit them because of their disabilities,” says Dr. Dent.

The goal of the program is to teach students how to clean and sterilize dental treatment rooms; sterilize instruments; set up treatment rooms with all the necessary protective barriers after each use; and stock rooms with dental supplies.

Dr. Dent partnered with Launch Academy in Texas, where his son went to school. Together, they built a training program using ABA therapy techniques. Soon, Dr. Dent was training two students—including Ethan—and giving them real-life, hands-on professional work experiences.

Ethan’s enjoyed learning, among other things, how to clean and set up rooms for patients. Though it was hard at first, he’s started to master more and more skills involved in being a dental sterilization tech. Says Ethan, “I like going to work with dad every day and helping him and the team have a good day.”

He also appreciates the daily routine of the medical office, along with being part of his father’s work. As he puts it, “It makes me happy.”

Not surprisingly perhaps, Ethan is especially skilled at working with patients with disabilities. He helps make them comfortable and puts them at ease. “I try to show them that going to the dentist isn’t scary,” he says.

Ethan is also a role model to others trying to get into the workforce, thanks to his motto: “You can do anything you work hard at.”

After successfully completing the training, students receive a completion certificate showing their competency in specific areas. The ultimate goal is to allow young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity for a career path in the dental field.

So far, the Special Needs Dental Assistant Tech Training Program is off to a great start. Dr. Dent is already dreaming of what a possible expansion could look like. “The goal would be to partner with schools or special-need adult programs that could do most of the basic training prior to on-the-job training.”

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