Monday, January 16, 2012

Finding a Dentist for Special Needs Kids

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.

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 work), 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 provide a calmer atmosphere in private rooms for their special need patients.

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. This might be done at an out-patient surgery center. If the child needs a filling, root canal, or crown, general anesthesia might be a good option. While the child is "under," the dentist may also provide a thorough cleaning.

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 of procedures. 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 help. 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. The search is worth it!

Elizabeth Givler and her husband raise three kids, two of which are on the autism spectrum. Elizabeth has a passion for equipping other special needs families to live as "normal" lives as possible. Elizabeth consults for non profit and faith-based organizations regarding inclusion and natural supports. Currently she teaches clarinet lessons to students with and without special needs and assists families with special dietary needs through her Wildtree business. Read her blog at or contact Elizabeth at

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