What Is Special Needs Dentistry?
Special needs dentistry is dental care offered by dentists who provide dentistry services to individuals who have a special circumstance or disability that requires additional care in order for the patient to receive oral hygiene maintenance, cleanings, and other dental service procedures. Dental offices that incorporate special needs programs often rearrange their services, provide additional staff, have special equipment, and have an office environment that can fully accommodate the needs of individuals who are disabled. Whether the disability is physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional, dentists who acquire special needs dentistry as a full-time service are far and few, making their services high in demand.
Adults and children who are provided with special needs dental care can fall under any of the spectrum of disability, including patients with autism, ADHD, down syndrome, spina bifida, MS (multiple sclerosis), muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, etc. Patients who will need special needs dental care also include individuals who are blind, deaf or require accommodation for a wheelchair. For dentists who cater to adult and children with Special Healthcare Needs (SHCN), special needs dentistry and sedation dentistry play a cooperative role in ensuring that patients get the dental services they need.
Sedation dentistry is the practice of providing anesthesia or medication to patients receiving dental procedures. The main benefit of providing sedation medication during a dental procedure is to alleviate the overall fear or stress the patient will have, either before or during the dental exam, so that their experience is pleasant and free of worry.
Sedation dentistry is beneficial to the patient as it helps to calm and relax patients who may otherwise become frightened from the noise of dental drills, appearance of medical equipment, and having a dental hygienist work away in their mouths with dental tools. The most common form of sedation used by dentists is referred to as minimal sedation and is administered by having the patient inhale a combination of nitrous oxide and oxygen (aka, “laughing gas”) through a mask. Being put under sedation during a dental procedure is a common practice for dentists performing cleanings when an adult or child has special needs.
Dentists performing restorative procedures or surgery may opt in for a more aggressive form of sedation which can be either moderate or aggressive sedation. The moderate form of sedation is usually necessary when patients are given medication in pill form called Halcium, which is taken orally an hour prior to the dental exam and causes the patient to sleep peacefully throughout the entire procedure. The aggressive type of sedation is given by syringe and causes the patient to sleep the entire duration of the dental exam and treatment.
Caregivers are also assisted with full-time staff who have experience with transferring patients with special needs from their vehicles, into wheelchairs, and then into a dental chair ready to begin the procedures that are scheduled during the dentist appointment. Most medications given to special needs patients make the patient fall asleep during the entirety of the dental exam, making the overall experience of going to the dentist a peaceful one.
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