Reason to smile: A student nurse is helping people with learning disabilities overcome fears of the dentist

A student nurse from USW is helping people with learning disabilities overcome any fears of the dentist

"I can’t imagine doing anything else other than being a learning disability nurse," says Tyler Payne, who was named RCN Wales Student Nurse of the Year 2017.

Tyler, now in the final year of her nursing degree, is committed to working with people with learning disabilities after her own personal experience. "My mum died when I was quite young and I’ve been a carer, along with my dad, to my big brother who has autism and learning disabilities. He’s my best mate and my inspiration. Seeing how far he’s come and how he’s overcome things is why I was drawn to this area of nursing."

Tyler has helped run a youth club for people with learning disabilities in her home town in Carmarthenshire for years. And more recently, she designed a dental desensitisation kit for people with a phobia of dentists, which also contributed to her RCN award win.

Lightbulb moment

The idea started after a placement with a community team where staff were using a desensitisation tool which improved the number of blood tests they had been able to get from patients with learning disabilities. Her second year assignment was developing health promotion and this was where her idea for a desensitisation kit came in. "It’s a common thing that people with learning disabilities and especially people with Down’s Syndrome are prone to having dental health conditions and anxiety," says Tyler. "I visited a local dentist who confirmed that people with learning disabilities do have more issues accessing dental care and are scared of going."

Tyler took simple dental implements, a cup, latex gloves and dental tools, and also filmed the journey to a dentist so that someone could see the inside of a dental practice, from the corridor to sitting in the dentist chair. "I did a voice-over for the film, which also has text, so someone will have a very clear idea of what happens when they visit."

The kit isn't just for people with learning disabilities, but anyone

Tyler put the film on a USB stick shaped like a tooth and together with the dental instruments she had the beginnings of her kit. "I tried using it myself with someone with learning disabilities and it worked really well."

The tools help people to get familiar with what is used at the dentist and the film talks through what will happen to ease anxiety.

"The kit isn’t just for people with learning disabilities, it can be used for anyone with a phobia of the dentist. It cost £7 to put together the kit, which is much less than a hospital admission and general anaesthetic if a problem becomes severe."

Tyler has been using one kit so far, but hopes the idea will be picked up by other trusts who can invest in it as a preventative measure.

As for the future for Tyler, after she graduates later this year, she has a job lined up working with in-patients who have learning disabilities and associated mental health and physical health problems.

"I know it’s something that gets said a lot, but I just want to work in an area where I can make the most difference," she adds.

Words by Susan Embley, photos by Sarah Barnes from RCN

Study learning disability nursing

If you are interested in a career in learning disability nursing then places are available at USW for a September 2018 start. NHS Bursary available.