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Finding the Right Dentist for Your Child with Special Needs

DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.

Finding someone you absolutely, inherently trust with your child can be a stressful task for any parent. Babysitters, nannies, tutors, music teachers, coaches, and professional care providers like dentists, pediatricians, or specialists all top the list of typical search points for parents. When you have a special needs child this “seek and search” task can become even more daunting and overwhelming.

The first consideration when looking for a dentist is to know the specifics that work best for your child’s needs. If your child has autism spectrum disorder, and really struggles with loud noises, ticks, or oral fixations, then you may have a better experience with a “special needs” dentist or at minimum a dentist who understands what triggers mean for your child. So how do you find a emergency dentist in Santa Rosa that meets most of your needs? Here’s a list to help get you started but keep in mind it’s not exhaustive.

  • Ask friends and family for referrals- A good referral is a great indicator of the mannerisms and likeability of a professional. If someone had a good experience somewhere, a referral is the highest compliment that a professional can get so the practitioners who get referrals from their existing patients are typically the really good ones.
  • Do an online search- Check reviews and the official websites for potential clinicians, including their social media pages. Not everyone will leave a google or yelp review about their experiences at an office but most people will communicate about it on social media, often directly on a physician’s Facebook or Instagram page.
  • Join and connect with other families with special needs- The most helpful information about the special circumstances in life usually come from those who have already been through it and experienced the ups and downs of it. This is especially true in the special needs community. If there is a particularly good or especially awful provider in your town, you can be sure that the community is telling each other about it. So find your tribe of people and get to know them and who they trust.
  • Call each referral- Once you have a good handful of referrals and organic potentials, narrow down the list and start calling each one. Ask questions about their protocol for special needs accommodations. Do they offer sedation, do they have hospital privileges, do they give more time than usual in appointments for sensory breaks, and any other questions that you feel would benefit your child? One important question may be “Do they allow a parent in the treatment room”? Some clinicians are very strict about this and stay firm on their “NO PARENT BEYOND THIS POINT” policy. Personally, this is ALWAYS a deal-breaker for me. If I can’t be present while you are treating my child then you are not the right fit for my family and I don’t have a problem with telling anyone that!
  • Schedule a meet and greet appointment or what’s typically called a “Smile Visit”- This is your opportunity to vet the dentist in person and their staff. The supporting staff is just as important as the dentist. If the front desk receptionist is rude and cold, then I would deeply question the logistics of the rest of the office. If the dental assistant is clumsy and aloof, then she is not the right person to be working on a special needs child in most cases. It’s important that the entire dental team is on the same page and shares the same philosophies on special needs care. A smile visit also gives you the opportunity to see how your child responds as well. They may immediately love the office and everyone there or they may be turned off by something like a smell, the temperature, or the noise level experienced within the building.

    I had a caregiver share their difficult experience with a loved one and a clinician’s office location. They had the most difficult time getting their special needs child into the doctor’s NEW office building. Not because of the doctor, in fact, they loved the doctor and had been seeing her for quite some time. The aversion being expressed was to the parking garage. For some reason, the special needs child did not like parking garages and would start to have a triggering episode as soon as they saw they were entering a parking garage and would then refuse to get out of the car. Unfortunately, something like this can eliminate a doctor as a potential caregiver.

  • Characteristics to look for in the staff and dentist- They should be patient, knowledgeable, passionate, experienced, nurturing, and able to bend and flex to suddenly changing demeanors. For example, If I’m cleaning the teeth of a child with autism and suddenly they begin to flap or shake their head, I need to have the skills and patience to pull back my tools from their mouth and coach them through the process until they are ready to move forward again. I would often keep stickers, hand stamps, and clickers on my workspace counter to use if needed, while also using movies and cartoons, music, light dimmers, noise-canceling headphones, stuffed animals, balloons, and peekaboo fans. Don’t be afraid to directly ask someone about their level of patience or experience either. If they have it, they will confidently engage in a conversation with you about their skills, if they don’t have it, you will be able to tell by their lack of formal conversation which usually is evident by them responding with a quick “sure I do” or a simple “yes”.

I hope you find some of these topics helpful if you are searching for a special and confident dental team for your family.

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© 2021 Compac Industries. All rights reserved. This article provides information about “oral health topics” as expressed through the perspective and experience of the author. The information provided does not substitute professional advice or counsel, including diagnosing or treating any condition. Always seek the advice of your dentist or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, an oral condition, an illness, or treatment of any listed or unlisted situation above. By using this site, you signify your assent to our Terms and Conditions. If you do not agree to all of these Terms and Conditions, do not use this site.

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