Oral Health Care for Patients with Special Needs

Oral health is an inseparable part of general health and well-being. Many health problems can be aggravated by poor oral hygiene.  Regular visits to the dentist are important for everyone, and they are especially important for people with mental and/or physical impairments because these individuals may be unable to properly care for their teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry defines special health care 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. The condition may be developmental or acquired and may cause limitations in performing daily self-maintenance activities or substantial limitations in a major life activity.”

Some special needs individuals cannot care for their teeth due to a physical disability, while others may not have the ability to understand the importance of preventive oral health practices such as brushing and flossing. This may translate to resisting help in having their teeth brushed by another person, making it difficult to properly clean their teeth, or an inability to cooperate during dental treatments in a dental office. Unfortunately, oral health in the special-needs population often is neglected. If caretakers do not receive training or obtain knowledge in terms of oral hygiene, the people they assist may have poor oral health as a result. Required medication or a poor diet can also be detrimental to dental health.

For trips to the dentist, some special needs patients will need more than a gentle, caring manner to feel comfortable during a dental treatment. Individuals who are very apprehensive or who are otherwise unable to tolerate sitting in the dental chair could benefit from Sedation Dentistry. I.V. Sedation is a safe and effective way to accomplish almost all dental procedures. I.V. sedation is not the same as general anesthesia. Under I.V. sedation, patients are able to breathe on their own and always have their protective reflexes (coughing and swallowing) intact. During an I.V. sedation procedure, the dentist will monitor the patient’s blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation. Sedation dentistry can make a trip to the dentist a pleasant, relaxing experience instead of a stressful or fearful one.

For more information on I.V. sedation, click here.