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A special needs child, just like any child, is a unique individual with personal preferences and anxieties.  Sometimes, special needs children have a higher level of anxiety when it comes to new situations like visiting a dentist. Professionals who interact with special needs children must approach with patience and understanding. While most pediatric dentists are able to care for a variety of special needs, it can be helpful for parents to prepare for the experience in advance.

Here are some questions for parents to ask prior to a dental visit with a special needs child:

Are the office and equipment accessible?

If the special needs child is in a wheelchair or has difficulty with mobility, the dentist should be able to explain how the office is set up and how they will examine the child.

Does the staff have experience with other special needs patients?

A parent may ask if the dental practice has other patients with special needs, to ensure that they know what to expect and how to handle various situations.

Does the staff have any specialized clinical training?

Most pediatric dentists get special training to treat children with special needs. In addition to preparing dental staff for interaction with the patient, specialized training may also help them to guide parents in strategies for successful at-home care.

What forms of distraction are available during the dental exam?

Does the office have televisions, music, simple toys to hold or squeeze? A parent can discuss with dental staff the distraction techniques that may work best for the needs of their child.

If needed, what is the usual plan/procedure for sedation?

Sometimes, certain procedures or extreme anxiety may warrant a discussion about sedation. There are various forms of sedation, and the dental professionals should be able to explain the options that may work best for each unique patient.

Do they have any videos, brochures, or books that may help in advance of the visit?

Informative resources are available to share with children before a dental visit. Parents can search for resources online, but the dental staff may have some recommendations as well.

 Is a pre-appointment available?

Taking a child to the dental office for a pre-appointment is sometimes helpful in alleviating worry or fear. The child can see the office, meet the staff, and look at the equipment before having anything done.

Having a special needs child can make standard dental procedures more difficult. Caring for a special needs patient takes compassion. If your child has special needs, talk with your dentist to discuss your options and prepare for the visit.