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Dentistry for Special Needs


Collaboration among the nursing team, dentist, dental assistant, behavior analyst, occupational and possibly a physical therapist was critical to the program’s success, and even some of the professionals had their doubts. “None of us were trained to collaborate in this way,” Dr. Diviney said. “Each discipline is accustomed to doing its part; if you’re a dentist, you may have a dental assistant in the room, but not a room full of other professionals.”

It takes a tremendous amount of time and patience, but the results are nothing short of amazing when the professionals collaborate on such a close level.

Parents or the person accompanying the child to the dentist’s office also play a major role in desensitation. Parents or caregivers can help prepare a child for the visits by showing pictures of the dentist, tooth brushes and other dental instruments, and gently massaging the face near where a dentist may eventually be working. They even stay in the dental suite with the child during a cleaning or dental procedure.

Today, Joel no longer needs the therapy ball before his dental appointments. He still enjoys the sensory lights, a vibrating toothbrush in his hand, and a container filled with raw rice, beans and beads, known as a rice bath to get him through procedures.

Josefina, Joel’s mother, couldn’t be happier with the results.

“He’s much calmer now,” she said. “He’s OK with going to see the dentist.”

During one dental visit, the team invited Josefina into the room, where her son was sitting calmly in the chair, ready for his appointment. As Dr. Won examined Joel, she kept saying, “’I can’t believe it.’”

About the Author: Dr. Chrystalla Orthodoxou, Chief of Dentistry for Premier HealthCare, has over 15 years experience treating individuals with developmental disabilities. She has developed and implemented the use of desensitization and behavior techniques to help children and adults patients with special needs. She has lectured extensively on using these techniques to deliver quality dental care to patients with severe anxiety, phobias, and sensory processing disorders. She currently serves on the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities Task Force for Specialty Care Dentistry and is a clinical faculty member of the dental department at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital.


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2 Responses to “Dentistry for Special Needs”

  1. Bonnie Kimpling-Kelly says:

    After two unsuccessful visits to the dentist, I read social stories to my son about going to the detist daily for a month before his next appointment.When we got there and he got to the chair, he said, "Now Mommy, you go wait in the waiting room"! Then when the dentist called me in to see his cavity, my son points to the waiting area, "ok, Mom, waiting room". SUCH a difference!

  2. Bonnie Kimpling-Kelly says:

    After two unsuccessful visits to the dentist, I read social stories to my son about going to the detist daily for a month before his next appointment.When we got there and he got to the chair, he said, "Now Mommy, you go wait in the waiting room"! Then when the dentist called me in to see his cavity, my son points to the waiting area, "ok, Mom, waiting room". SUCH a difference!

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A recent study from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine found that people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities are more prone to dental disease than the general population and that further research is required to identify effective interventions.

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