Special Health Care Needs

Special Health Care Needs

Dental visits for children with special health care needs

More than 11 million children in the U.S. have special health care needs.1 Their increased anxiety can present challenges, and they often have more severe dental problems. Dentists and family members can overcome many obstacles by working together when it comes to regular dental visits.

A team effort will make regular checkups go smoothly, but preparation is key. Complete as much as possible before arriving at the dental office, including:

  • Make sure the dentist knows in advance about any physical conditions, medications, allergies and behavior concerns.
  • Alert the dental staff about any sensitivity to bright lights, sounds or being touched.
  • Fill out paperwork ahead of time to avoid delays in the waiting area, where a child could become anxious.
  • When possible, the child should sit in the same chair during each dental visit, and the exam should be performed by the same staff members.2

When creating a daily oral health care routine at home for a child with special health care needs, remember to:

  • Maintain a positive attitude and make it as fun as possible.
  • Choose a comfortable location with adequate lights.
  • Organize toothbrushes, toothpaste, rinses and floss before you begin.
  • Use picture books, puppets or toys to demonstrate.
  • Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Give lots of encouragement and reassurance.
  • Keep a list for other caregivers of what works and what doesn’t, including preferences and comfort items.

Consistency earns a child’s trust, and following a routine helps them grow more confident with each visit.

This information is available to download as an oral health flier.

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, The National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs Chartbook 2009–2010, (2013).
2 University of Washington and Washington State Oral Health Program, “General Dental Health Guidance for Parents and Caregivers,” web.

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