The last 10 years of Dr. Elbert “Bud” Baker’s nearly 50-year dental practice in Nashville have been the most rewarding. The reason? More than half of his current practice is caring for mentally challenged adults. “Ten years ago, I would never have thought this was for me. “But today I don’t even think about retiring because I’d have to give up these people,” Baker (HSC ’56) says.
Special-needs adults require special attention when it comes to having dental work done. “These people need more than equal treatment,” Baker explains. “Many cannot tolerate having someone work in their mouth; more than half have to be sedated.”
Because many have been abused in the past, they are uneasy around a person they don’t know. That wariness doubles the anxiety felt by the average patient. But Baker says his whole staff is geared for the special-needs patients.
He illustrates the point with a story about one of his first special-needs patients. “The young lady was finally settling into the dental chair when my assistant gently laid her hand on the patient’s arm. She snapped, â€˜Don’t touch me!’ which took us both aback a bit,” he recalls.
Baker and his support staff persisted with caring words of encouragement and warm smiles. Every time the patient came in after that, she greeted them with hugs and kisses. A number of patients come to him under a state of Tennessee program. Some live in group homes. Others have their own apartments or still live with their families.
“The state is phasing out institutional living for mentally challenged adults,” Baker says, “and it’s making a huge difference in their lives. It’s amazing to see the change that loving treatment can make in people.”
Barbara McAdams, associate vice-chancellor of alumni affairs for the UT Health Science Center, recently spoke with Baker at an alumni gathering in Nashville. She was impressed with his commitment.
“He literally glows when he talks about his patients. It’s clear he must be making a tremendous impact on his patients’ lives.”
Still working 3 full days a week, Baker has no intention of retiring because, as he puts it, “These people mean so much to me. I could tell great stories all day, but I fear I would bore everyone. For the first time in my life, I feel I am doing something special.”