Patient Care: Gentle Dental Care for Kids with Special Needs

MugayarLeda Mugayar, D.D.S., recalls when an autistic boy she was treating had trouble pronouncing her name.

“Leda,’’ she said, and he gave her a look of confusion. She tried “Mugayar,’’ and got the same response. Then he looked at her and came up with a name of his own.

“OK, Dr. Spaghetti.”

Sitting in the UFCD pediatric dental clinic, Mugayar laughs at the memory, holding her straight blonde hair that had reminded the boy of pasta. There are so many memorable patients and wonderful stories like that one, she says, that make it easy to love her job.

Mugayar is a pediatric dentist, and she said her passion is treating children with special needs. “I don’t do this for me…,” she said. “I do this for the children. Because they are the ones that we are here for.”

She said her experience with special needs patients pushed her toward the preventive side of dentistry, because there’s so much you do if you work ahead of the clock. For babies, that means working with their mothers when they are pregnant. And for infants, just being desensitized to the dental visit itself is an effective way to begin prevention of cavities.

Mugayar was born and raised in Brazil, where she graduated from the University of Campinas School of Dentistry. She received pediatric dentistry training in Brazil before she moved to Japan with her son for postgraduate training. Later, they moved to Sydney, Australia, where she became the head of Westmead Hospital’s special-needs dentistry department. She then completed a master’s degree in preventive dentistry and community health at the University of California at San Francisco.

Since 2011, she has been on the faculty at UFCD, where she continues to work to expand care for children with special needs.