"I went into pediatrics for mothers and children. It boils down to my desire to make a positive impact early on. We can make a big difference with compassionate care, especially in a child’s first years of life. Oral health is a gift you can give to your child that will last a lifetime."
- Dorothy Nelson, DDS
As a pediatric dentist specializing in airway health and its relation to sleep, breathing, and breastfeeding, Dr. Nelson knows the impact that parents (especially moms) have in detecting signs and advocating for their children’s health, especially when it comes to oral restrictions. In addition to providing full-spectrum dentistry services for infants and children, Dr. Nelson also provides tongue tie diagnosis, therapy, and release procedures at Bellevue Kids Dentist and Snoqualmie Valley Kids Dentist in the state of Washington.
Dorothy first began her journey into oral restriction issues when a mom and dad brought their baby to her, with a note that said to check for tongue tie. As she conversed with them, she was impressed at the extensive research they had done before even coming into her clinic.
“I felt humbled that the parents knew more about this issue than I did and I told them that.” This sparked her curiosity and interest. She began a quest to find the answers to their questions.
As she learned more about the early signs and the long-term consequences of untreated oral restrictions, Dorothy began to notice the signs of functional issues within her own family such as heart conditions, undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, and oral myofunctional disorders.
"I realized that when you have a tongue tie, you are more at risk for cardiac and sleep issues. When I had my own babies and began breastfeeding, I found that each of my own three sons would need treatment for oral restrictions to some degree.”
After extensive research, training, and time spent listening to the needs of families and patients, Dr. Nelson began diagnosing and performing oral restriction release procedures, while working together with an interdisciplinary team to support her patients before and after the release. This was especially important when helping babies and mothers with breastfeeding but also beyond that stage too.
“I really wanted to put the puzzle pieces together, not just be a surgeon. How can we build a team to support this family? It becomes a lot more complex than just a simple procedure.”
Dr. Nelson believes addressing an oral restriction is about the right timing, a well-thought-out treatment plan, and surrounding a family with professionals from various fields.
“Beyond a correct diagnosis, parents and patients need the right team to get set up for success in the long-run. Support from other therapists such as a speech pathologist or occupational therapist can be more important than the release procedure itself.”
Dr. Nelson’s approach is measured and nuanced. Rather than a definitive approach or answer, she also knows that there is still so much to be learned through research and experience.
Before graduating from the University of Washington School of Dentistry, Dr. Nelson went to the Republic of the Martial Islands to develop strategies to prevent tooth decay with the department of public health. She completed her residency at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center treating very sick children. These experiences solidified her convictions and desire to help mothers and children.
“Everyone has a right to full function and health. It comes down to access to care and public health policy. All children should be able to thrive and grow, regardless of their circumstance. In dentistry it is really hard to create equity because not everyone has the same means or access to care.”
Small changes can make a big impact if we can catch things early on.
“Every parent wants their child to thrive. With better public policy and health education, we can improve access and resources so that all children can get help if they need it.”
Dr. Nelson supports the best outcomes for all women and children, whether they feed their babies with breast milk or formula. As a mother, she knows firsthand that cultural, policy and societal shifts are necessary to promote better outcomes for mothers and babies.
“We will all benefit if we normalize breastfeeding. I had never even seen breastfeeding until I had to feed my own child. When you can empower a mother, that is when real change occurs.”
“I really believe that it is parent and public demand that is going to drive this movement. A mother who is worried about her child is an unstoppable force. Give women information, knowledge and power, and they will get help for their babies. We can truly make a difference in a child’s life by identifying and addressing an oral restriction early on. It is never too late to learn something that can make a difference in your family’s health.”
Dorothy is a liaison for the American Academy of Physiological Medicine and Dentistry (AAPMD) and a founding member of the Endeavor Task Force, a group of pediatric dentists and orthodontists dedicated to airway health.
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