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Golisano Foundation 2012 Healthcare Leadership Award Winner
Maricelle Abayon, DDS, MS (Special Smiles)
Dr. Abayon is a dentist at Eastman’s Howitt Urgent Dental Care. She and her colleagues provide emergency treatment to people with developmental disabilities. Without the special attention and the skills Dr. Abayon provides, most of these patients would have been referred elsewhere, likely waiting months for treatment. She sees patients in pain from cavities that could have been treated earlier if dental care had been available.
Even though Maricelle Abayon had several years working as a dentist under her belt, she didn't have any experience treating people with developmental disabilities and was pretty nervous about it during the required rotation at Monroe Community Hospital, part of Eastman Dental's advanced education program.
With the encouragement and tips from an experienced co-worker, dental hygienist Andrea Pedersen, Dr. Abayon learned that a little patience, compassion, determination and some creative distractions went a long way. She soon gained confidence and, more importantly, a new sense of fulfillment she had never experienced before. Helping patients feel better who are extremely anxious, fearful, and upset, has been deeply rewarding.
Wanting to learn more, she joined the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and Related Disorders (LEND) Fellowship program that was offered at the Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong, knowing that people with developmental disabilities are aging out of pediatric dental practices and would need care. There, she learned the importance of being a culturally sensitive healthcare provider. She also learned that each patient is unique, and should be treated as individuals, rather than those with similar diagnoses. During this time, Dr. Abayon had the opportunity to share daily activities with a person with developmental disabilities and her family, and says it was a very enriching and eye-opening experience.
She also gained valuable experience working with Dr. Wayne Lipschitz in the operating room, but soon realized that only a small fraction of this community receives this service. Because of the significant access challenges facing this community, Dr. Abayon wanted to do more to help.
That's when she became the Clinical Director for Healthy Athletes Special Smiles in Rochester. During Special Olympics events, Dr. Abayon works to provide athletes dental screenings, oral hygiene education and referral lists. She earned her master's degree in Clinical Investigation, and completed two post-graduate residencies since arriving in the U.S. in 2006 from her native Philippines, where her father and younger sister are dentists.
Dr. Abayon also leads a workgroup, as part of the area's Community Task Force on Oral Health for People with Developmental Disabilities, which is studying how to improve access and dental service to this population.
While she knows there is much to be done, Dr. Abayon is happy to be a part of an institution that has the commitment to make a difference.