Treating Birth Defects
Photograph By Romero & Romero
Specialty: Pediatric Specialist
• Fairfield University, 1991
• Louisiana State University, 2002, 2004
Dr. Claudia Cavallino learned what would be her most important career lesson while attending dental school at Louisiana State University and continuing her training as a pediatric specialist. “Dental school is a whirlwind of basic sciences and clinic and trying to balance all that,” she says. “But when you’re going through dental school, you’re taught repeatedly that you’re not just treating a tooth – you’re treating a whole person. You can’t get tunnel vision. The teeth are connected to the rest of the body. Oral health plays a major role in your overall general health. It’s all interconnected.”
This lesson has served her well during challenging cases, particularly in regards to her work with special-needs children and children in need of craniofacial surgery at the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. “We treat kids on that team that are born with any and all craniofacial defects, with cleft palate the most common among them,” Cavallino says. “By the time they’re 18 years old they’ll have had as many as 20 very difficult surgeries throughout their lives. But in the end, when you’re able to transform that child with a cleft palate into an adult with a normal appearance and smile, that’s very rewarding, and I enjoy working with those kids”.
Cavallino’s primary base of operations is at the Bayou Children’s Dental Center in Houma, of which she is a founding member. One of her mentors in dental school, pediatric specialist Dr. Charlie Bush, retired from his practice in the late 1990s, leaving Houma without a pediatric dentist for several years, “so kids in Houma were having to be referred to Metairie and New Orleans,” Cavallino says. Bush encouraged Cavallino to consider working in Houma after completing her specialist training I’ve been busy since 2004.”
Busy doesn’t cover it – Cavallino, her colleagues Drs. Kellie Axelrad and Paige Gaudet, and their nine support staff members are beloved in the community and currently have over 10,000 active patients. “On an average day, we can see 40 to 50 patients,” Cavallino says. “And we’ve had busy Sundays at 3 p.m.”
In addition to her work at Bayou Children’s Dental Center and Children’s Hospital, Cavallino is active in the Louisiana State Dental Association, the New Orleans Dental Association, the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry Alumni Board, the American Cleft Palate Craniofacial Association and the Terrebonne Parish Head Start Board. In 2013, she was a governor’s appointee to the Louisiana State Dentistry Board.
Cavallino’s main concern about the future of dentistry is the corporatization and de-localization of the practice. “What you’ve seen over the past decade and a half is an influx of these corporate-owned dental chains that are not owned locally and answer to corporate stock holders instead of the community,” Cavallino says.
“They go after Medicaid dollars and are now being investigated by the U.S. Senate. You see a lot of overtreatment and over-billing. It erodes the public trust in what we do.”