The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry reports that roughly 13-18% of children fall into the category of what is defined as “special needs patients”.

The AAPD defines special needs as, “any physical, developmental, mental, sensory, behavioral, cognitive, or emotional impairment or limiting condition that requires medical management, health care intervention, and/or use of specialized services or programs.”

(Source of study.)

Ongoing studies over recent years show that special needs patients are at an increased risk of dental caries (cavities) in particular. This is usually because of traits like the need for special diets, medications, and oral habits like atypical swallowing, lip sucking, or tongue interposition.

Some of those same behavioral traits in special needs patients also mean that providing proper care during the dental appointment is more complex. In some cases, the study mentions, dentists had difficulty being as thorough as they would have with other patients.

Various practitioners employed the use of general anesthesia to test the difference it’d create, to great success. This form of sedation overcame many of the behavioral challenges, as well as anxiety the patient may have felt or the general inability to sit still for the entire session.

The two major drawbacks of general anesthesia, however, are:

  • Only certain doctors and facilities are set up and certified to provide general anesthesia, meaning a family’s options for where to receive this type of dental treatment aren’t as straightforward as a standard appointment.
  • General anesthesia tends to be more expensive than a standard appointment, and that can be prohibitive to some families as a regular type of treatment.

The workaround for many pediatric dental specialists, such as those working at our offices, is in the advanced training. To a fair degree, mitigating behavioral exceptions comes down to technique, patience, and personality.

Our office is of course wheelchair accessible, and our staff are all trained on procedures for efficiently helping your child transition from a wheelchair (or crutches) to the dental chair. A big part of making the dental appointment a positive experience is attitude and open communication, and those traits are all the more important for younger patients who may not understand everything the visit entails.