Special Considerations for Patients

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Patients | Patient Relations

While every practitioner should be aware of particular considerations that might apply to special needs patients, all patients deserve special considerations that recognize their level of oral health literacy, medical/health issues, possible dental anxiety and other factors.

  • Age, culture, language, economic status, values, beliefs and past dental experiences are just a few of the factors that can impact how a patient needs to be treated and motivated to manage appropriate home care.
  • You and your staff need to be aware of and sensitive to patients’ special concerns. Is it a first dental visit for a pediatric patient? An emergency radiograph for a pregnant patient? Are you seating a geriatric patient with limited mobility? While each situation requires a different protocol, they share the need for you and your staff to be aware of and sensitive to their need for accommodations.
  • Many patients with physical or developmental special needs can be treated within the practice with reasonable accommodations. The answers to the questions below can help you determine what changes might be needed to make your practice a better environment for special needs patients:
    • Has your practice met its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (AwDA), and other federal, state and local disabilities laws?
    • Is it possible to implement a plan that, over the course of a few brief visits, familiarizes the patient with the stimuli and environment common to most practices?
    • Can light and sound levels be adjusted to accommodate patients with sensory issues?
    • Can family members or caregivers assist the patient in practicing daily tooth brushing at home? Is your staff able to instruct caregivers in proper technique to avoid any injury?
    • Can the patient watch as a family member receives treatment so they see what happens and observe desirable patient behaviors?
    • Do members of the dental team have training or experience in transferring limited mobility patients to the dental chair?
    • Is the dental team familiar with the oral health problems faced by people with disabilities?
    • Does the office have mouth props or supportive devices to aid patients who may have difficulties in opening their mouths?
    • Are members of the team trained to create personalized oral hygiene programs appropriate to the patient’s level of understanding and ability?
    • Is the dental health team knowledgeable about assistive devices to help special needs patients perform good home care?
  • While a complete, accurate and current medical history is important for every patient, having that information is absolutely critical when treating patients with special needs. A patient assessment form can help identify any special techniques or accommodations that might make treatment a more positive experience for the special needs patient.
    • The patient assessment form should detail the nature of the disability, the degree of the patient’s independence, dental history, social history, communication ability (vision or hearing loss), transportation needs and preferred appointment times.