Getting to know Dr. Irene Lau
BSc, DDS, Cert. Ped. Dentistry
Pediatric Dentist & Co-founder of Hello Smile Hong Kong
Place of Birth:
Have you lived overseas?
Yes, I have lived in Los Angeles, Indiana, Chicago, New York, and Beijing.
Year of your return to Hong Kong:
What brought you back to Hong Kong?
How did you get involved with the special needs community?
It started during my training in pediatric dentistry in New York as pediatric dentists in the US are trained in treating children with special needs. Throughout the past 19 years of my career, I have always been interested in and involved in treating children with special needs. This population has always been underserved, dentally.
How are you currently involved with the special needs community in Hong Kong?
Since my return to Hong Kong, I have noticed that children with special needs and young children from underprivileged backgrounds have limited access to dental services. In addition to providing dental treatment for children with special needs through my private practice, I have been involved with providing this service as a volunteer through Mother’s Choice and different NGOs.
I decided to start an NGO with my husband to provide outreach services, free clinics, and education to these children. Hello Smile Hong Kong is now a registered charity and our service was launched in August 2022.
Please tell us about the service that you provide.
Hello Smile Hong Kong collaborates with local NGOs to provide dental services to young children from low-income families, single-parent families, children with special needs and those living in group homes. These children do not qualify for school dental services and have no means to obtain dental treatment.
We have already had several successful collaborations with SoCo, Chicken Soup Foundation, and Faith in Love Foundation. We have held several free clinic sessions for these foundations to provide basic and immediate dental treatment such as dental check-ups, teeth cleaning services and fillings.
Who is eligible to apply?
Any local NGO is welcome to contact us.
Do you also work with individual clients?
Yes, I maintain two multidisciplinary dental practices and continue to treat children with special needs through my private practice as not everyone can qualify for the service through Hello Smile Hong Kong.
What age groups do you work with?
Children of all ages up to age 18. With the special needs community, sometimes it is throughout adulthood.
Are you able to accommodate different types of special needs?
Yes, we are. Our facility is wheelchair accessible as well.
How do you adapt your dental treatment for children with special needs?
As a pediatric dentist, I am trained to treat child patients with a variety of behavioural management techniques such as Tell Show Do, distraction techniques and positive reinforcements. We adapt these techniques for children with special needs and can also utilise alternative methods when necessary ie. using nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or sedation, depending on a child's needs.
There are different tools on the market that can be introduced to parents to aid in oral hygiene management such as flavourless toothpaste, 3-sided toothbrushes, and mouth props to make toothbrushing easier.
What are some of the more common dental/ oral health issues that you come across when working with children with special needs?
Common issues include:
a. Poor oral hygiene because parents are unable to brush for their child, and increased calculus accumulation due to pooling of saliva in the mouth (due to poor oromyofunctional issues).
b. Cavities due to poor oral hygiene and sometimes due to weak oral motor functions which may cause food pouching (holding food in the mouth for an extended period of time) which in turn increases the rate of cavities.
c. Malocclusion (misalignment of upper and lower teeth) due to airway issues, hypotonic muscles, lip incompetence, and open mouth posture.
d. Lip tie and tongue tie which may cause speech delay, poor eating habits, and poor sleep due to blockage of the oropharyngeal airway.
Are there any specific issues that parents can look out for which may otherwise go unnoticed?
ie. tongue position and function, lip posture, swallowing pattern, and sensitivity to different food textures.
ie. mouth breathing, snoring, loud breathing, restless sleep, nocturnal teeth grinding, and a strong gag reflex.
Do you collaborate with any other professionals to address a child's needs more holistically?
Yes, speech therapists, oromyofunctional therapists, feeding specialists, and ENT specialists.
What have been some of the rewards and challenges of working with children with special needs?
There are many challenges of course, just like treating any children. Although there are challenges, it is always rewarding to treat children. To be able to make a difference in their lives and to see them improve in their oral health is the best reward.
Where can parents find more information about your work and how to get in touch with you?
Hello Smile Hong Kong has a website: www.hellosmilehk.org
I can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org