Special needs dentist Dr Trudy Lin is a true go-getter


Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

special needs dentist Dr Trudy Lin
Photography: Simon Casson

Special needs dentist Dr Trudy Lin has a list of achievements that is long, wide, varied and, frankly, exhausting. By Frank Leggett

When the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was held at Westminster Abbey last September, there were representatives from 168 nations. This included 55 presidents, 25 prime ministers and 18 monarchs among the 2000 invited guests. Also present was Dr Trudy Lin, a 30-year-old dentist from Adelaide. 

“When I received the phone call from the Prime Minister’s office, I initially thought, ‘Is this a prank?’” recalls Dr Lin. “But it wasn’t.”

Dr Lin is a passionate advocate and active participant in the field of special needs dentistry. A motivator and inspirational speaker, she has packed more into her career than seems possible, particularly considering her age. Her invitation to the Queen’s funeral was completely merit-based.

“I felt it was a recognition of how valued the contributions of oral healthcare professionals are in our country,” she says. “I certainly felt a strong sense of responsibility to be a worthy representative of our profession and the service we provide.”

Starting young

When Dr Lin was growing up, her father suffered from severe tetracycline staining. She saw how this impacted on the quality of his life, limiting job opportunities and his ability to socialise.

“I could tell it affected his self-esteem and he felt a lot of shame and stigma around the way his teeth looked,” says Dr Lin. “From a young age, I had an understanding of how important oral healthcare is for people to be able to live life on their own terms.”

Dr Lin attended the University of Adelaide, gaining a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2014. In 2020, she completed her postgraduate degree, obtaining a Doctor of Clinical Dentistry, specialising in Special Needs Dentistry. Her passion for looking after people with disabilities grew due to an unexpected hands-on experience.

“During my final year of dental school, I completed a rotation in the special needs unit, and a year after that my youngest brother, Arron, received a diagnosis of autism,” says Dr Lin. “Arron’s lived experience further increased my passion for caring for people with disability.”

With respect

Dr Lin currently works at Respect Dental in Adelaide. This mobile practice is committed to bringing oral healthcare to those who face the most barriers to access, including people with disabilities, psychiatric illness or complex medical issues such as cancer. They provide care to patients who are experiencing homelessness and domestic violence, elderly patients in residential care facilities and those with mobility issues.

When I received the phone call from the Prime Minister’s office, I initially thought, ‘Is this a prank?’ But it wasn’t.

Dr Trudy Lin, special needs dentist

“Many people, at some point in their lifetime, can benefit from being seen in the comfort of their own home,” says Dr Lin. “People with autism who have sensory sensitivity find it extremely distressing to go into a clinical environment. People suffering from agoraphobia fear leaving their home for various reasons, including acute anxiety. I have a patient with multiple severe allergies and agoraphobia. The last time she went outside, she was hospitalised after getting a whiff of someone’s perfume.”

When a practice is limited to one physical location, many people are excluded from accessing oral healthcare. Running a mobile service is an answer but there are increased logistical challenges.

“We need to account for travel time and costs, and we’re definitely less productive,” says Dr Lin. “I tend to wear knee pads for my patients who are wheelchair users, as I like to get down to their eye level. Respect Dental was set up to look after all people and we’re prepared to adapt to give them access to our care.”

The ripple effect

Dr Lin is also involved in research and lecturing in Special Needs Dentistry at the University of Adelaide.

“As there are only 25 special needs dentistry specialists currently in Australia, I really enjoy being in the education space,” says Dr Lin. “There’s a ripple effect that comes from teaching and equipping others with knowledge, skills and a mindset to learn and evolve as a clinician.”

Every dentist will come across patients with special needs over the course of their career. By upskilling and being able to adapt to each patient’s needs, oral healthcare becomes more equitable and accessible. Dr Lin would like to see increased special needs dentistry education and clinical experience offered through undergraduate dental programs.

“That would help build up a workforce of professionals to meet the needs of the 4.4 million Australians currently living with a disability,” she says. 

Road to Westminster

Part of the reason Dr Lin was invited to the Queen’s funeral was her impressive list of achievements. She was the 2021 South Australian Young Achiever of the Year and the 2022 South Australian Young Australian of the Year. She is president-elect of the Australian New Zealand Academy of Special Needs Dentistry and an SA representative for the Disability Oral Health Collaboration. Dr Lin volunteers her expertise as an Associate Advocate for Citizen Advocacy SA to support advocacy for people with intellectual disability. To top it off, she self-funded the establishment of a supported independent living facility for people with disability to live in the community. 

As there are only 25 special needs dentistry specialists currently in Australia, I really enjoy being in the education space. There’s a ripple effect that comes from teaching and equipping others with knowledge, skills and a mindset to learn and evolve as a clinician.

Dr Trudy Lin, special needs dentist

“One of my patients uses a wheelchair after a motor vehicle accident and his sister was building him a house out of her own pocket,” Dr Lin says. “I started wondering about all the other people who can’t afford to build a home. It took some time but I eventually found a way to self-fund the construction of a universally accessible facility for people with disability to live in the community. There are four residents and a NDIS carer who provides 24/7 support. All the residents enjoy being in an environment where they can live and work as independently as possible.”

Dr Lin traces her work ethic back to her family and a 12-month leadership training course she undertook at the start of her career. The coaching in the course gave her the confidence to realise her goal of making a significant impact outside of the clinical setting.

“That whole year was so monumental and life-changing for me, that I became a leadership coach for the same leadership program the following year,” she says. This passion for helping other clinicians to reach their potential has led to further involvement in coaching, mentoring and public speaking.

Dr Lin has even started her own mindset coaching program called Extra Mile Coaching. It’s designed to help oral healthcare professionals go that extra mile for their patients and for themselves in their personal lives.

Right balance

With so much on her plate, it’s no surprise that at one point, Dr Lin felt like she was fast approaching burnout. “I thought that my passion for my work would see me through, but I was wrong. We need proactive resilience strategies aimed at our wellbeing, which is where my passion for supporting others in my profession with mindset coaching comes from.”

Today, Dr Lin is busier than ever but with a healthy work-life balance. One of her personal goals was to start seriously running, an exercise she now embraces.

“I believe carving out time for personal goals is an important part of work-life balance. After all, we only have a certain amount of time so it’s important to be strategic in how we use it.”

Dr Trudy Lin’s mission: to build a more inclusive society where every person can eat, speak, smile freely and live to their full potential.

The three pillars to her mission are:

1. Raising public awareness of the importance of oral healthcare.

2. Advocating for solutions in governmental policy.

3. Upskilling and empowering oral healthcare professionals through mentoring and coaching.

Previous articleIn tune with each other
Next articlePredicting cardiovascular disease using indicators of oral infections


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here