Meet Dr Trudy Lin

Prior to her trip to Perth to present a Special Needs Dinner course, we caught up with Special Needs Dentistry Specialist and 2022 South Australia Young Australian of the Year, Dr Trudy Lin.

Our Dentists

The WA Dental CPD dinner courses are always popular, but if you want to attend a course that will make an impact on you, then you cannot miss out on the Special Needs Dinner in March, presented by Special Needs Dentistry Specialists, Drs Trudy Lin and Jee-Yun Leung.

Trudy’s passion for creating more equitable access to oral health care is infectious, and this mission stems from childhood.

“Growing up, I watched my father struggle with his oral health,” Trudy recalls. “He has severe tetracycline staining and I saw how that held him back from living the life that he wanted to lead – from withdrawing from social situations, not wanting to pursue job opportunities and the impact it had on his self-esteem. This is what drove my passion to become a dentist and help prevent a smile or oral health from being a reason people can’t live to their true potential.”

Trudy’s interest in special needs dentistry firstly came because she feels so passionately about every person having access to oral health care, so wanted to have the skills to look after any person that made it to her dental chair.

“The second influence comes from drawing more from my family’s lived experience,” she adds. “My youngest brother Arron has autism and my grandma passed away from cancer. I was very close to my grandmother and being alongside her during her cancer journey played a big part in wanting to help others who were experiencing similar challenges to her.”

Trudy is one of only 24 Special Needs Dentistry specialists in Australia and has taken the mission of spreading the word about the importance of equitable oral care seriously. Her dedication was recognised when she was awarded the 2022 South Australian Young Australian of the Year, and later in the year, received an invitation to attend the Queen’s funeral. “It was an honour to receive the invitation to promote Special Needs Dentistry and our profession; I also feel like it was a defining moment for all specialists in Special Needs Dentistry and for oral healthcare professionals because it was a recognition of how valued the contributions of oral healthcare professionals are in our country. I was so humbled to happen to be the person selected to represent that and I felt this strong sense of duty and responsibility to be a worthy representative of the importance of our profession and as a really proud Australian citizen.”

Trudy has only been to Perth once before, in a fleeting visit in 2021 to volunteer with a camp for children with cancer through Camp Quality. This means, the Special Needs Dinner she will be presenting alongside fellow Special Needs Dentistry Specialist, Dr Jee-Yun Leung, will be the WA dental cohort’s first opportunity to see Trudy lecture. “I really enjoy giving CPD lectures and helping to upskill General Dentists because it is the way we will be able to create more access to care for marginalised populations, who experience the greatest burdens of oral disease,” she says. “It comes back to believing that every person deserves the right to oral health care.

“Special Needs Dentistry is quite a broad speciality and encompasses a broad range of different patients including various types of disability, complex medical issues, and psychosocial complexities,” Trudy adds. “In the course, Jee-Yun will cover managing medically-compromised patients and I will cover caring for people with disability, which includes physical, intellectual and psychiatric conditions.

“I like to make the content as applicable and useful to General Dentists as possible, so I’ll cover treatment philosophies, approaches and techniques, which can be universally-applied for patients typically cared for in the private practice setting. This includes the techniques which apply to anxious or phobic patients, paediatric patients and geriatric patients, such as communication techniques, decision making frameworks and also sensory approaches to clinical care. I always like to have a lot of interaction and so there will be lots of opportunities for attendees to ask any questions they have specifically.”

To General Dentists who think Special Needs Dentistry skills do not apply to them, Trudy’s message is that every person that seeks your care is likely to fall under the Special Needs banner at some point in their lifetime.

“Any one of us, our loved ones or our patients, could end up with some sort of physical, medical or mental condition and that might be through accident, illness, injury or ageing,” she says. “This is why equitable access to oral healthcare for people with Special Needs should matter to all of us, because any one of us could fit into that banner at any point in our lives. Imagine if every General Dentist extended their skills to care for just a few more patients who have those additional needs and the impact that would make.”

Trudy says she enjoys the ripple effect that comes from teaching and equipping others, not just with knowledge and skills, but the mindset to want to extend themselves and step outside their comfort zones to learn and evolve as a clinician.

It is clear Trudy’s work as a clinician is just as rewarding. “Nothing compares to that feeling you get from making a positive impact on someone’s life and I feel we are so fortunate as oral health professionals that with our very own hands, we can take someone immediately out of pain,” she says. “Oral health has such a strong influence on a person’s ability to participate and be included in society that we also get to experience the satisfaction through helping someone improve their ability to eat, to speak and to smile. We then experience a flow-on effect which leads to them being able to live life on their terms and just reach their full potential,” she says.

“I had patients who once they had their dentures inserted developed the self- confidence to go and find the love of their life, go for job interviews and change their financial status. The impacts are even greater when you are caring for people from marginalised identities. For example, Australians with an intellectual disability die 20 years younger than the general population and the leading cause of their premature death is lung disease, 50 percent of which is aspiration pneumonia, which we as oral health professionals know is linked to inhalation of dental plaque. It is profound to have that realisation that the next time you clean someone’s teeth, you could be saving their life – that is how important our work is.”  

Five Minutes with Dr Trudy Lin

What three words best describe you?
The most common words that people have said describe me is that I’m passionate, caring and determined. I feel like the three of them are very interlinked. I am driven by this strong belief in inclusion – every person matters, and every person deserves to live to their true potential. This drives this strong sense of social justice and care for people from marginalised identities and that drives my passion for my work and my advocacy. Then I become determined to do the best that I can to make a difference.

If you weren’t in the dentistry field, what would you be doing for a living?
I truly feel called to my work in oral healthcare; I can’t imagine not being involved in the dental profession in some way. I do find myself being drawn to the ‘one-to-many’ impact and that is what I enjoyed about the time I spent before specialty training in leadership and mindset coaching, so perhaps that might be what I would be doing.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I haven’t had much time in the last year with all my spare moments being used with voluntary advocacy for oral healthcare as a result of the SA Young Australian of the Year Award. I am looking forward to the pace potentially slowing down a little bit to allow me to spend my spare time outdoors in nature.

What is your favourite book?
My favourite book is called The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman. I believe our brains are the most powerful tool that shapes our lives and that is what drew me into mindset coaching. What I love about this book is it sheds so much light on understanding how our brains are wired and how we make decisions.

If there anything people might be surprised to learn about you?
I completed a 105 kilometre ultra-marathon on the Heysen Trail to fundraise for the Cancer Council. That usually surprises people and it surprised myself because if you meet me you’ll see I don’t have the height to be a runner – I am quite small and short. But that is the reason that drew me to it – to develop my mindset and break through a self-limiting belief. The amazing thing about this experience was when I broke through that belief it really changed my concept of what I believed was possible in other areas of my life.

What future plans are on the horizon for you?
I have been asked this question a lot, and it has allowed me to gain clarity about my personal mission statement – what I aim to contribute is summed up as trying to help people move to their full potential – that is why I am working towards creating more equitable access to oral health care for marginalised people in our community.

I see three pillars to this mission – the first one being raising awareness around the importance of oral health in the general community, secondly – advocating for solutions at government policy level, and thirdly – building capacity supporting and upskilling dentists.

I would like to focus more on that third pillar and invest more time in supporting clinicians. It is important to support clinicians in their wellbeing because at the end of the day, clinicians are the critical asset, which then drives patient care. This passion I have comes from my own near-burnout experience during my specialist training and what I found was when I sought mindset coaching it had a huge impact on my capacity and resilience to then thrive. I would like to empower other dentists to thrive in their professional and personal lives in some way, shape or form through mindset coaching in the future.

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