Special Needs Dental Care

Millions of Americans have special health care needs.  When it comes to dental care, these special needs include any physical or mental disability that creates challenges in preventing and/or treating dental disease.  This encompasses a wide range of factors, from a mild case of rheumatoid arthritis that makes flossing difficult to severe physical and mental handicaps that create barriers to obtaining routine dental care.

If you or a loved one have special health care needs, this blog will provide valuable information about how to lower the risk for dental disease and increase the likelihood of successful visits at the dentist.

Preventive Care

Because special health care needs can make dental care challenging, it is essential to be as preventive as possible.  Preventing dental diseases like cavities and gum disease is always easier and less expensive than treating them.

The following list includes the important tasks your dentist and his staff of professionals perform to prevent dental disease.

  • Professional Cleanings – Many patients with special health care needs struggle to clean their teeth adequately. This leads to an overgrowth of plaque and tartar buildup.  When someone has trouble cleaning their teeth, it creates a snowball effect: plaque and tartar attract more bacteria, which produce more plaque and tartar.  It is difficult to stop this cycle.  Intervening with professional teeth cleanings gets you back to square one.  Many patients with special challenges will need these cleanings on a more frequent basis to ensure that the teeth and gums are staying clean and healthy.
  • Sealants – Dental sealants are one of the best cavity-fighting preventive treatments we have in dentistry today. Sealants fill in and “seal” the deep pits and grooves in the biting surfaces of the back teeth.  Sealants prevent bacteria from penetrating and causing a cavity.  They also create a shallow, smooth surface that is easier to clean with a toothbrush.
  • Fluoride Treatments – If Dr. Chowning determines that the risk for cavities is high due to the special needs you or your loved one face, he will recommend professional fluoride treatments when you have your teeth cleaned. Fluoride is a natural mineral that strengthens enamel and makes it more resistant to decay.  Professional fluoride treatments on a consistent basis are scientifically proven to prevent the formation of new cavities.  Fluoride applications are quick and painless.

Home Care Help

With physical or mental challenges to oral hygiene, help from a caregiver is the best solution.  Patients with mental or cognitive disabilities should not be expected to properly clean their teeth and gums on their own.

  • Lessons and Tips – If you are a caregiver for someone with special needs, ask your dental hygienist to show you how to take care of the teeth and gums. The hygienists are experts at brushing and flossing someone else’s teeth!  They can give you tips on how to quickly and easily manage the oral hygiene routine.
  • Electric Toothbrushes – Electric toothbrushes are a great tool for removing plaque. Research shows that an electric toothbrush consistently removes more plaque than a manual toothbrush.  These are wonderful additions for patients with physical disabilities, like multiple sclerosis or arthritis.
  • Flossers – Rather than using a piece of floss wrapped around your fingers, you may find it much easier to use a flosser or floss-pick. These tools allow you to reach the back teeth without having to put your entire hand in someone’s mouth.
  • Low Sugar Diet – Because of the increased cavity risk that is inherent with special health care needs, it is important that special needs patients avoid sugars and simple carbohydrates. Sticky, gummy candies and mints or lollipops create a constant sugar source for bacteria to create cavities.

Longer Appointments

Whether it is positioning a patient who is physically disabled in the dental chair or spending extra time with someone who has behavioral challenges, special health care needs make dental visits last longer.  We want every dental visit to be comfortable and non-threatening.  We will take extra time to explain procedures to patients with mental or cognitive challenges.  Please be prepared to spend more time in the dental office so that we can provide you with the very best care.


We value the relationships we build with each patient.  Not only does seeing the same person at each visit make our patients more comfortable, it improves the quality of care we can provide.

When you have your teeth professionally cleaned by the same dental hygienist at each visit, we can track small changes in your dental health.  We remember the small adjustments we make to keep you as comfortable as possible.

We also know that our patients with mental challenges thrive under consistency.  Keeping their appointments at the same time of day with the same dental professional leads to successful visits.

Medical Consultations

Our goal, as you can see from reading above, is to prevent dental disease in our special needs patients.  Not all dental problems are preventable, and sometimes invasive dental treatment is necessary.

With special health care needs usually come multiple medical considerations.  When our patients with special needs require dental treatment, we will consult with your medical doctor to ensure that your health is protected.  Some medications have interactions with dental drugs, and some affect the way a patient would respond to dental treatment.  All of these possibilities take top priority when we plan any needed dental treatment.


Many medications cause dry mouth as a side effect.  This can have a devastating effect on the teeth and gums, drastically increasing the risk for dental disease.  We understand that many of our special needs patients take multiple medications and change the medications they take on a frequent basis.  We will update your medical history, including prescription medications, at each dental visit.  Please make sure to have a current list of all medications you are taking.  This can play a vital role in your dental care.

Do You or a Loved One have Special Needs that Make Dental Care Challenging?

Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will patiently assess your situation and get you on the right track to great dental health.

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