Within a few days, Bella was wheeled into N.Y.U., ending her odyssey.
Many disabled New Yorkers refrain from seeing dentists at all, since many offices are not wheelchair-accessible, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else,” said Jonathan Novick, the outreach manager at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. “Therefore, they have the same right to dental hygiene that everyone else does.”
Even if they can get into a dental office, patients in wheelchairs face an additional hurdle: Assistants often have to help move them to a dental chair, or cumbersome hoists may be used. “For a patient confined to a wheelchair, it’s a source of anxiety to move from their wheelchair to a dental chair,” said Dr. Charles Bertolami, the dean of the N.Y.U. College of Dentistry.
N.Y.U.’s new center makes things much easier. At a recent visit, Bella had her wheelchair locked into place in a special wheelchair recliner and then tilted back to have her teeth inspected. It’s just one of 24 such recliners in the United States, according to John Walters, a designer at Design Specific, the company that makes it. In the center’s first month, about half of patients have used it, Dr. Robert Glickman, an oral surgeon, said.
In mid-April, N.Y.U. dentists determined that Bella could have root canal therapy to repair her two front teeth. A week later, Bella’s smile was fixed.
“The way they made her feel was a big deal for us,” Ms. Closs said. Joe Dockery, Bella’s father, added: “They treat her like one of their own kids.”
Bella showed her appreciation in her own way: After her first visit, she hugged her dentist.