Niagara College and Bethesda partner to offer dental clinic for children with Autism

Niagara College and Bethesda are working together to help brighten the smiles of children with special needs.

In an effort to remove the barriers to dental care often faced by children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, NC and Bethesda have partnered to host a free clinic for local children at the College’s Welland Campus.

On October 29, the College opened the doors of its on-campus Dental Clinic to 26 children between the ages of four and 15 – all with Autism Spectrum Disorder who were identified as requiring support to have a successful dental appointment – along with their caregivers and clinicians from Bethesda. 

College faculty and more than 50 second-year students from the College’s Dental Hygiene advanced diploma program provided services including x-rays, oral hygiene coaching, scaling, sealants, fluoride, nutritional counselling and more. Clinicians from Bethesda were present to offer support, as well as faculty and about 40 students from the College’s Autism Behavioural Science (ABS) graduate certificate program.

By combining the expertise of the College’s dental programs with the science of Applied Behaviour Therapy, the clinic provided proactive strategies to help support the children in completing what would typically be an overwhelming event. It also helped to support and reduce stress for the children’s caregivers, by providing services that they may have had difficulty accessing in the past.

According to Sandie Narsansky, manager of Children’s Services at Bethesda, the clinic provided a much-needed service. Although routine dental care is vital for children, many who are diagnosed with Autism face challenges at the dentist, preventing them from accessing oral health care. Bethesda advertised the clinic to all families registered with the Hamilton-Niagara Regional Autism Program and it filled quickly.

“In keeping with Bethesda’s core values, we strive to improve the quality of life for families who have children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The goal of this specialized clinic is to provide children and families with tools and supports to successfully access dental care in a community setting,” said Narsansky. “By working with other professionals, we aim to educate and support the inclusion of individuals who have special needs.”

While the clinic served to assist local children with Autism and their families, it offered Dental Hygiene students an opportunity to put their dental skills to work and gain valuable experience with clients who have special needs. Students in the ABS program had the opportunity to observe clinicians and apply their skills to assist clients through the challenge of their dental appointment, as well as to provide support for Dental Hygiene students who have had limited previous exposure to clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABS faculty also worked with the dental program prior to the clinic, to help prepare students for the event.   

“This clinic is an example of experiential learning at its best, as our students gain real-world experience while using their knowledge and skills to assist residents in our community,” said Carolyn Triemstra, dean of NC’s Community and Health Studies division. “It was also a valuable interdisciplinary learning experience, giving our Dental Hygiene and Autism Behavioural Science students an opportunity to learn from one another, and an opportunity to work with a community partner.”

Students valued not only the experience they gained, but the opportunity to help others.

“It’s a valuable experience for me and all the students to learn more about Autism while helping kids who don’t get proper dental care,” said Dental Hygiene student Jasmine Axnix of Welland. “We have an amazing dental program at NC and it’s nice to be able to help out.”

“I’m a very compassionate person who likes helping people which is why I picked the ABS program,” said St. Catharines resident Maggie Joseph. “Every day is a learning process, and it’s important for me to learn the skills and apply them to help someone else.”

This was the first joint service offering between NC and Bethesda.

Bethesda’s Vision Statement: A community of support that inspires, encourages and empowers children, youth, and adults with special needs to live fulfilled lives.

Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit


Dental Clinic Bethesda Oct. 29 group: Faculty members and students from Niagara College’s ABS and dental programs, as well as a representative from Bethesda, prepare to welcome children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to the Welland Campus Dental Clinic on October 29. Pictured (from left) are Kate Misale (ABS faculty), Taryn Walsh (ABS faculty), Chelsea Misener (Bethesda), Leeza Kristalyn (dental faculty), Michelle Thibault (dental faculty), Alaina Gauthier (dental faculty), Maggie Joseph (ABS student) and Jasmine Axnix (Dental Hygiene student).