What is Special Needs Dentistry and Who Require It?

Like every average person, children and adults with special health care needs (SHCN) also require oral treatments.  What differs most of the time is the type of dentist they consult. Patients with special needs require a slow approach than usual. Here, a dentist goes through additional training in Special Needs Dentistry, which is a specialized branch of dentistry.

Even the assistants and office staffs are well trained so that they could provide an extremely comfortable environment for people with special health care needs (SHCN). Parents of SHCN patients look for a dental practitioner who could understand and accommodate issues related to such patients. Let’s learn more about this branch of dentistry and see how it helps people with special health care needs.


What to know about special needs dentistry?

Special needs dentistry allows a dentist to undergo additional training to work with patients who have special needs, especially young children.

It’s a broad term that refers to people with different developmental difficulties related to physical, mental, or sensory impairments.

Parents should be careful in choosing a dentist who has a general understanding of different conditions.

They should also look for a professional who empathizes well with the patient while examining them.

How do special needs dentistry work?

It may be difficult to work with children with severe facial conditions. But the right dentist can find ways to overcome those challenges.

You can ask a dentist prior to arranging a meeting to discuss the needs of the child. Also, you can find out how your child feels about being in the dental chair given in that environment.

You can discuss with a dentist, get a treatment plan about how they’ll approach the child and see if the child is comfortable with it.

There are many ways you should expect your dentist to alter their standard solutions for your child.

Solutions may include slowing down the pace of the oral examination or the use of anesthesia to reduce pain and general discomfort.

Dental care for children with special health care needs (SHCN)

Children with SHCN require routine dental care along with additional attention.

Pediatric special needs dentistry is a branch of dentistry that treats children with physical, emotional, developmental, cognitive, or mental impairment, as well as those affected by an orofacial disorder or condition.

Treatment for such kids includes examinations, dental fillings, and cleanings along with regular oral care.

Dentists embrace a proper understanding of the effects of this condition on the child and provide the required treatment.

Children who are affected by an orofacial disorder also require this medically specialized dental care.

When should you consult a special needs dentist?

Developmental disabilities include autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, spinal injury, visual and hearing impairments, muscular dystrophy, depression, and seizures. All these disabilities affect the brain and the body.

If your child requires extra attention beyond a general level of care, it’ll be wise to consult a dental professional who is skilled to combat such situations.

A professional who takes the time to learn about your child will be completely transparent with you.

It’s a mutually beneficial situation wherein the dentist and parents can learn from each other to get the best results for the child.

Consult a dentist who can not only make regular dental treatments easier for your child but can also recommend long-term solutions for optimum oral health care.

A special needs dentist appointment

An appointment with a special needs dentist can usually be different than with a regular dentist. A special needs dentist tailors his or her approach to the patient’s additional needs.

Usually, a slower approach than usual is required. The appointments should be set when the clinic isn’t as busy. Sometimes the best method for treating sensitive patients with SHCN is to provide them with general anesthesia in an operating room.

A study in Australia stated that a level of comfort, positive attitude, and supportiveness for the SHCN patients suggested positive implications for the practitioners to partake in the multidisciplinary management of patients with special needs indicating a need for standardized training requirements and practice guidelines in this area of care. (1)

How to locate a special needs dentist?

Many dentists have the understanding which is required to treat children with SHCN, but only some specialize in these patients.

The Association of Special Care Dentistry maintains a searchable database of registered members. You can also contact a  local university or dentistry college. They run clinics that treat children and adults with SHCN.

How to choose a dentist?

Certain factors play a crucial role in decision making when it comes to choosing a special needs dentist for your child.

The well-trained office staff at a practice that treats children with SHCN can discern the nature of the condition.

Get a slightly longer appointment and it is desired to have the presence of auxiliary personnel under the guidance of the dentist.

A dentist who has access to a hospital setting can provide sedation and advanced anesthesia when needed. With knowledge of special needs, a dentist can also offer advice on oral care at home.

For someone with a lack of motor skills, a battery-operated toothbrush can be helpful to help make sure the teeth are getting cleaned every day.

An experienced dentist not only understands the specialized set of needs but also interact with the child on a personal level. Trust and a good experience go a long way in dental care.


Take away message

Developmental disabilities make daily dental care a challenge. Patient with disabilities receives dental treatment from experienced professionals in hospitals and nursing homes.

Others may take help from private practitioners in their communities. Above all, an excellent special needs dentistry practice contains specialized equipment, such as an operating theater, a dentist who takes a detailed medical history that shapes the treatment taking in to account the patient’s needs.

It’s vital that parents feel comfortable with the dentist and confident about their child’s needs being met. Helping someone with SHCN can be as rewarding as it is challenging.


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