Finding a dentist for special needs kids

Photo by Milan Jurek

This is an article I wrote last year  for Children’s Dental Health Month.  –Elizabeth

Good dental hygiene can be almost impossible for some special needs kids.  The daily routines of life can make it easy to forget about brushing and flossing, and some kids with sensory integration issues may be very resistant to the activity.

Finding a good dentist may help.  Dentists and their staff can help educate children about dental health and encourage children to brush, floss, and rinse.  Parents may be able to learn tips on how to help their children take care of their teeth.

When seeking out a dentist for your child, keep in mind the uniqueness of your child and his or her needs.  Here are some helpful questions to ask as your seek out a dentist.  (Readers: Feel free to post other helpful questions in the comment section below, or recommend good dentists.)

Are your familiar with my child’s disability? Many dentist offices will express their willingness to see patients with disabilities.  However, as many parents know, sometimes “disabilities” are all “lumped together.”  There are many types of disabilities, each with unique characteristics. Successful dental appointments depend upon the dentist’s and the dental staff’s willingness to learn about your child’s specific needs.

May we tour your facility before we visit? Going to the dentist can be scary! Touring the facility ahead of time will eliminate some of the “unknown” and perhaps ease some of your child’s fears. He or she can sit in the dental chair (and maybe even make it operate), look at the tools, and maybe even get a free toothbrush before the scheduled appointment.  Receptionists and other staff will also be familiar with your child before the appointment. Meeting the dentist and staff ahead of time is especially helpful.  However, scheduling and multiple locations may limit staff availability.If touring is not practical, check out the office’s website.  Some have pictures and bios of the staff, as well as virtual office tours.

Do you have a private room for your special needs patients? In many dental offices, patients are seen in one big room, perhaps partitioned by cubicles or curtains. Kids with sensory issues could be overwhelmed by sounds such as  drills, cleaning tools, or by other children. Some offices such as Kearns and Ashby (my kids’ awesome dentists!) offer private rooms for their special need patients to provide a calmer atmosphere.

How do you handle tantrums and refusals of treatment? Pediatric and adolescent dentists are well-acquainted with these issues.  The best prevention of tantrums is educating or preparing the parent and child before a procedure.  Some kids will refuse to have their teeth polished.  Find out if there is an alternative to the cleaning tools, such as simply brushing the child’s teeth.

Do you provide anesthesia for dental work?  If your child is already fearful of strangers and dentists, or has severe oral sensitivities, anesthesia may be an option for cleaning and dental work.This may be found on the dentist’s website.  If so, familiarize yourself with the different options they offer.

Is dental work done under anesthesia performed in the office or elsewhere? Some offices offer general anesthesia for major dental work, provided by an anesthesiologist.  Kearns and Ashby perform these procedures at the West Shore Surgery Center.

How do you prepare your special needs patients for the procedures? Some dentists show the tools, demonstrate on dolls or their own teeth, or even have pictures.  The dentist may have suggestions for preparing the child at home, too.

Will my child see the same dentist at every visit?  For people with developmental disabilities such as autism, this may be important for continuation of care.  The more interactions the child has with a dentist, the more trust builds.

Do you take Medical Assistance?  Many dentists do not take medical assistance.  However, if financially feasible, paying out of pocket for a dentist that fits the child can be worth it in the long run.

Finding a good dentist can be a long process.  Asking other parents can help.  Comments, recommendations for good dentists, and other helpful tips are welcome and encouraged!  Post below.

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