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updated: 3/7/2015 12:33 PM

Residents with autism could see relief in dentist's office

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Mike Baker's 16-year-old son has autism and experiences trips to the dentist differently than most people.

Baker, of Schaumburg, said his son was sedated for dental work recently because regular numbing medication was not enough.

"We had to do it because he cannot sit through a normal procedure," Baker said. "Under just Novocain, he would just want to rip the stitches out of his mouth. He doesn't know how to handle things like that."

Baker's family was left to front the majority of a $5,100 sedation bill. Insurance covered about $1,800, he says.

After hearing Baker's story, state Rep. Laura Fine, a Glenview Democrat, introduced legislation that would relieve families of those costs. Fine's proposal would require insurance companies to cover the cost of administering anesthesia to Illinois residents with autism spectrum disorders up to age 26 while they receive dental work. Under current law, insurance companies are required to cover anesthesia costs for patients up to age 6.

Sabrina Shafer, an attorney and special needs advocate, says sedation is greatly needed for children, teens and adults with autism.

"There's anxiety going into the office and often the parents will give children whatever it takes to calm them down," Shafer said. "Sedation works in that case."

While accompanying an individual at the dentist, Shafer has seen first hand why caregivers often advocate for sedation. Sometimes, patients have to be physically restrained.

"It can be absolute chaos. Patients could be screaming and crying and often times parents just have to leave the room," Shafer said.

Shafer says the trauma often leads to long-term anxiety when it comes to dental care.

A representative of the Illinois Insurance Association didn't respond to a request to comment on the proposal.

Caregivers of children and adults with autism often put off dental work altogether because of the trauma it could cause their loved ones.

While this can lead to long-term health issues, Fine says her proposal would fix the hesitation parents often have when taking their children to the dentist.

Several other suburban lawmakers, including Linda Chapa LaVia, an Aurora Democrat, and Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat, support the proposal.