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The McGovern triplets

“They just love our kids”: Finding a dental home at Children’s Wisconsin

When Christine McGovern’s triplets were born 16 weeks prematurely, they immediately required lifesaving interventions at Children’s Wisconsin. The situation was most severe for baby Jasper, whose complications from prematurity led to a brain injury that resulted in quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

But with all the medical complexity swirling around the family, there was one factor Christine hadn’t even considered: her children’s future need for special care dentistry.

Lori Barbeau, DDS, is the medical director of the Children's Wisconsin dental program

Jasper was born with insufficient tooth enamel, which can cause pain and other complications. He’s also at risk of aspiration during dental care, and has other dental issues due to seizures, medications and his inability to receive food orally. Early on, the family’s pediatrician referred Jasper to Lori Barbeau, DDS, medical director of the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Program who also specializes in caring for children and adults with disabilities. Jasper’s siblings, Ella and Porter, also have developmental delays, sensory issues and insufficient tooth enamel. They started receiving care at the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Program at the same time. Children’s Wisconsin has been the McGovern’s dental home for 11 years.

“Overall, we feel so safe and well cared for at the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Program,” said Christine. “The staff are remarkable. There are lots of great, mindful conversations, and they treat Jasper like a human even though he is nonverbal. They just love our kids, and they’re so good with them, too.”

A commitment to help more kids

There are many Wisconsin families like the McGoverns who could benefit from the special care dentistry expertise of Children’s Wisconsin. While Children’s Wisconsin is already one of the largest providers of pediatric dental care in the state — seeing 22,000 patient visits a year — 4,000 new patients are waiting for appointments. 

To help meet that growing need, Children’s Wisconsin is working to redesign and expand its dental program on the Milwaukee campus to increase much-needed access for families, particularly those with disabilities. In June 2022, the Delta Dental of Wisconsin Foundation committed $1 million to support this expansion. This gift also included a $500,000 dollar-for-dollar matching opportunity — the Healthy Smiles Healthy Kids Challenge. To receive the matching funds from Delta Dental, Children’s Wisconsin has to raise $500,000 before Dec. 31, 2022.

The redesign and expansion will allow the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Program to serve 4,000 more kids every year. Children’s Wisconsin is committed to making sure that their most vulnerable patients find their permanent dental home at Children’s Wisconsin.

These upgrades will include:

  • Seven new dental chairs, bringing the total number of chairs to 20

  • 10 private treatment rooms to provide quiet spaces for the many patients with sensory issues, as well as 10 semi-private treatment rooms

  • Improve accommodations to deliver special care dentistry with features that support the needs of patients with disabilities and their families

  • Additional space for pediatric and special care dentistry training for Marquette University dental students, Children’s Wisconsin pediatric dental residents and other practicing professionals

  • Expand the Children’s Wisconsin Craniofacial Orthodontic Program to care for more kids with anomalies like cleft lip and palate, and to perform complex procedures of the face, jaw and mouth.

Christine knows from her networking with other families who have medically complex children that a good special care dentist is hard to find.

“We are so blessed that we got in when we did,” she said. “I encourage the community to help Children’s Wisconsin meet the Healthy Smiles Healthy Kids Challenge so they can serve the many kids like my children who really need the services offered by this outstanding dental program.”

Making life easier for families

From the front desk staff to the hygienists to the dental students in training, the staff have been “amazing,” said Christine. But she feels especially close to Dr. Barbeau, whose deep experience caring for kids like Jasper helps her anticipate his needs. At one point, Dr. Barbeau recommended capping Jasper’s baby teeth to protect them because of his enamel deficiencies. “Dr. Barbeau’s guidance for Jasper is unparalleled,” said Christine.

And because Jasper sees about a dozen other specialists at Children’s Wisconsin, the Dental Program has been able to coordinate with Jasper’s other doctors — for example, checking on his G-tube or performing an endoscopy while he’s already under anesthesia for a dental procedure. “It’s convenient for us to have Jasper’s care at Children’s Wisconsin, which is phenomenal and really necessary,” said Christine. “They have an amazing coordination of care.”

The dental team has also helped put the other triplets at ease — such as when Ella, who is reluctant to wiggle out her own loose baby teeth, had two teeth go flying out during a recent cleaning. “The dental staff was very helpful with it all and had a great sense of humor about it,” said Christine.

Christine is grateful to the benefactors who have already supported the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Program and hopes others understand how much the expansion will mean to families like hers.

“Sometimes, families can take dentistry for granted, but it’s a huge concern for us,” she said. “Knowing we have someone in the Children’s Wisconsin Dental Program is very reassuring when everything else is stressful. It’s another burden lifted off of our shoulders as parents of these kids who have a lot of needs. And knowing that many more families can feel that relief in the future is super important because I know there are a lot of us out there.”