By Susan Youngwood
When a hearing-impaired patient goes to Westchester dentist Sabrina Magid, the treatment is not lost in translation.
Dr. Magid and her staff know sign language and use an innovative computer program to communicate to the hearing-impaired. “It’s a niche that I’ve created that I enjoy doing,” Dr. Magid said. “I’m providing comfort and care for patients who wouldn’t ordinarily get that, or who would avoid care all together.”
Dr. Magid started taking American Sign Language in high school, going to classes with a close friend who had a health condition that could lead to hearing loss. That friendly gesture started a lifelong interest.
She started an ASL club in high school (she grew up in Westchester), and taught a class on ASL and deaf culture as a college student at Duke University. At dental school at University of Pennsylvania she started a sign language club and taught classmates basic sign language. Deaf patients were assigned to her for treatment.
“From what I’ve found, a lot of dentists see underserved patients, but I haven’t found many dealing with the deaf population,” she said. She soon learned the challenges that deaf patients have at the dentist. She came up with procedures that she now uses in her family practice in Harrison with her father, Dr. Kenneth Magid.
Because dental practitioners wear face masks, hearing-impaired patients can’t read their lips. More sensitive to vibration, many deaf patients find dental treatment with drills to be particularly unpleasant. Clues that hearing patients use to understand their treatment –like hearing the sound of the drill –are lost on the hearing impaired.
Dr. Magid said she understands the importance of using other forms of communication with her patients. She takes photos before and during procedures. She uses email and texts to set up appointments.
“It starts with our front desk,” she said. “Our front desk understands something as simple as making their face visible, which is helpful for lip reading. We have a hygienist who knows sign language, as I do.”
And she uses a computer program that converts speech to text on a monitor overhead.
“That’s especially useful when I have my hands full and my face is in a mask,” she said.
She avoids the drill when possible, using air abrasion and lasers. And she will tap her patients on the shoulder to alert them that treatment is about to begin.
“To my knowledge, there is no one in our area or even far away that is doing this,” Dr. Magid said. She says she has been contacted by dental practices in other states on how to replicate her services. “I have patients who e-mailed me from hours away who want to come and do all the work in one weekend,” she said.
Dr. Magid would like to take her approach to treating the hearing-impaired to a wider audience, training other dentists in her techniques. “That’s my future goal,” she said.