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5 Strategies When Caring for Patients with Special Needs

Clinicians can better serve patients with special needs by being prepared to offer treatment modifications. Here are 5 strategies when caring for patients with special needs.

Because standard dental procedures can be more difficult for patients with physical, cognitive, or developmental disabilities, oral health professionals must practice empathy and take the time to get to know the patient and his or her caregiver. Clinicians can better serve patients with special needs by being prepared to offer treatment modifications. Here are 5 strategies when caring for patients with special needs.

1. COMMUNICATION

Patients with special needs may communicate in nontraditional ways, requiring clinicians to adapt to the situation. Speaking in short, simple sentences, using a Picture Exchange Communication System, and implementing the “tell-show-do” method are helpful with this patient population. Practicing good communication with both the patient and caregiver will help ease anxiety and build trust between the clinician and patient.

2. ACCESSIBILITY

Aside from wheelchair ramps, dental practices should be user-friendly for patients who require treatment modifications. For instance, some patients may need to be transferred from wheelchair to the dental chair, others may be more comfortable with a rear delivery system rather than over the patient, and parents/caregivers may need to accompany the patient in the operatory.

3. SHOW COMPASSION

Oral health professionals must practice patience and empathy when treating patients with special needs as sounds of dental instruments, operatory lighting, and other sensory stimuli may disturb patients with disabilities, including autism, causing disruption during the dental visit. Being flexible and showing compassion is a must when caring for patients with cognitive, behavioral, or developmental disabilities.

4. APPROPRIATE DEVICES

Limited dexterity may prevent patients with special needs from performing self-care. Some children and adults do not like certain tastes or textures of toothpastes. Arming parents and caregiver with ways to modify toothbrushes, and offering alternatives to strong-tasting toothpastes can help improve at-home oral hygiene routines.

5. COMFORT

Clinicians can provide patients with a pleasant dental experience in several ways. They should be prepared to offer distractions to quell nerves, weighted vests, headphones to cancel out noises in the operatory, and fluoride and toothpastes that the patient can tolerate.

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