Gentle Dental Care

Caring for children, especially those with special needs, is this dentist's passion

By: Cecilia Mazanec

Leda Mugayar, D.D.S., recalls when a boy with autism she was treating had trouble pronouncing her name after an appointment.

“Leda,’’ she said, and he gave her a look of confusion. She tried “Mugayar,’’ and got the same response. Then, he looked closely at her and came up with a name
of his own.

“OK, Dr. Spaghetti!” he exclaimed. Sitting in the pediatric dental clinic in the UF College of Dentistry, Mugayar laughed at the memory, touching her
straight blonde hair that had reminded the boy of pasta. There are so many memorable patients and wonderful stories like that one, she said, that make it
easy to love her job.

Mugayar is a pediatric dentist, and she said her passion is treating children with special needs.

“I don’t do this for me or for the department,” she said. “I do this for the children. They are the ones that we are here for.”

Mugayar said her experience with these patients pushed her into the preventive side of dentistry, because there’s so much you do if you work ahead of the clock. For babies, that means treating pregnant women.

“If you have good health,” she said, ”you are going to have good oral health for your baby.”

And for infants, just being desensitized to the dental visit itself is an eff ective way to begin the prevention of cavities.

Mugayar was born and raised in Brazil, where she graduated from the University of Campinas School of Dentistry. She received pediatric dentistry training in
Brazil before she moved to Japan for postgraduate training.

Mugayar published a textbook on special needs dentistry while in Brazil. She also completed a master’s degree in preventive dentistry and community health at the University of California, San Francisco. Later, she and her son moved to Sydney, where she became the head of Westmead Hospital’s special needs dentistry department. While in Australia, she created a clinical doctorate program in special needs at the University of Sydney.

When her son wanted to attend college in the U.S., Mugayar decided to follow him. She found a job as a faculty member at the University of Florida, and
in 2011, began working here.

Scott Tomar, D.M.D, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., the interim chair of the department of community dentistry and behavioral science at the UF College of Dentistry,
works frequently with Mugayar in taking dentistry outside the dental building. It’s a breath of fresh air, he said, to work with someone “so grounded in providing
excellent clinical care, but broad-minded enough to realize that we can never surgically treat our way out of disease.”

His toughest challenge about working with her, he said, is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything together. “If I could just clone Dr. Mugayar,” he said, “we’d be in good shape.”

He said from Day 1, she brought new ideas to the job.

When she arrived at UF, she knew the cycle of restoration without prevention would continue, so she proposed creating an infant oral health clinic and a
special needs clinic.

The special needs clinic began last year after about fi ve years of preparation. The clinic is held Wednesday afternoons, with patients referred by Mugayar and by the UF Health Shands Hospital staff . That makes Wednesdays her happiest days, she said.

Thursday afternoons are slotted for the Infant Oral Health Clinic, where mothers can bring their infants, from newly born to 3 years old. Pediatric dentistry residents, nutritionists, dietitians and undergraduate dental students rotate through the clinic.

Mugayar said she hopes to add a speech pathologist to the mix. If the clinic sounds hectic, it’s because it is.

“It’s like a Turkish market,” Mugayar said with a laugh. She compares it to a party. “If I have a party just me and you, it can be a party,” she said. “But if I want to have a party, I want to have guests.”

And to have the guests, Mugayar said, she needs to not only invite them; she needs to also convince them that the party is worthwhile.

Her methods appear to be working. Since its beginning, the clinic has seen about 1,500 families, Mugayar estimated. But she’s still working to bring more patients under the care of her clinics.

“I want them to understand that the door is open. It’s for them,” she said.

“That’s why I’m here.”