Special Care & Emergency Dentistry

Adults and children who have special health care needs have to go to the dentist just like everybody else. But having a dental professional who knows how to work with and accommodate such a patient is very important and much more beneficial than trying to make it work with a dentist who doesn’t have special training. Today we’ll be teaching you everything you need to know about special care dentistry and helping you find dentistry for special needs in your area.

What is special care dentistry?

alzheimers and special care dentistry

Special care dentistry is a type of specialist dentistry that is designed to provide oral care to those who have special health care needs. These could include any physical, medical, developmental, sensory, and/or cognitive conditions that make it difficult for a child or adult to go to a non-specialist dentist for any reason. It often (but not exclusively) refers to patients with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. It also includes helping those with Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, or spinal cord injuries. If you or your child is an special care patient, you likely already know about your/their particular needs and how to work with them.

In the United States, a special care dentist must complete an extra three years of postgraduate and must then be certified by the American Board of Special Care Dentistry. Three years of additional training is also the standard in most other countries, although the certification board is obviously different in each nation.

Special care dentistry procedures

Special care dentists and oral health therapists will provide assessment, diagnosis, treatment, management and preventative oral assistance just like any other dentist, but they will do so in a way that works with the specific needs of the patient. Usually the procedures will be the same as they would for non-special care dentistry, but a specialist dentist will operate more slowly and carefully in order not to frighten or harm the patient in any way.

For example: for patients who experience sensory overload, they may schedule an appointment at a time when the office is less busy and place the patient in a special room that is more comforting. Or, for a patient on the Autism spectrum who relies on familiarity, a dentist may schedule an appointment before the actual procedure in order to show the patient the operating theater and explain the function of every piece of equipment in the room.

In some cases, a special care dentist will give the patient a general anaesthetic during the dentistry procedure in order to ensure that the special care treatment can proceed in a comfortable and expedient manner.

Special care dentistry equipment

special care dentistry for kids

Special care dentists may use different equipment to facilitate the special needs care their patients require. For example, there are a number of specialized dentists’ chairs available for patients who are in a wheelchair or who have special mobility needs. Patients with cerebral palsy will have their head and neck securely stabilised with pillows or a padded brace of some kind in order to prevent the potential danger of uncontrolled movements during oral treatment.

Special care dentists may use specific toothbrushes that provide more stimulation for patients with ADHD or who find that “stimming” puts them at ease. Or they may use non-electric toothbrushes for patients who find such stimulation frightening. Mouth rests are another common tool that may be used in special care dentistry for a variety of reasons.

In short: there is a lot of special care dentistry equipment that a particular specialist may or may not choose to use. The specific equipment in use is less important than knowing that your dentist is trained and able to work with your special needs.

How can I find special care and emergency dentistry near me?

Many dental offices will have one or more staff members who have the training necessary to perform special care dentistry. In the United States, the words you’re looking for are “Diplomate ABSCD,” which indicates that a dentist or oral health therapist has been officially certified by the American Board of Special Care Dentistry. Special care dentists will often have this qualification listed somewhere on their website – if not, you can always call the office to ensure that the specialist in question has been officially certified.

Universities and colleges with a medical school that includes a dental program will often offer special needs dentistry upon request, so if you are unable to find special care dentistry near you that may be a good place to start. Otherwise, you might contact or look up the website of the Special Care Dentistry Association, which maintains a searchable database of all registered members organized by area.

Setting up an appointment for special care and emergency dentistry

special care dentistry emergency patients

Generally, you will set up special care and emergency dentistry appointments through the usual channels – a phone call, an online form, or an in-person meeting. However, you should make extra sure that you reach out to the dentist or oral health specialist in question to discuss you or your child’s specific dentistry needs. This will allow the dentist to make the best decision about how to go about your oral health checkup or procedure.

A special care and emergency dentistry appointment will often take more time than a regular appointment and may be scheduled for an unusual time of day or day of the week in order to make sure that there are as few other patients present as possible and that additional staff members can be on hand to assist the special needs patient if necessary. A special care and emergency dentistry appointment may actually be two or more separate appointments for the reasons discussed in the last section.

Finally, because special care dentistry is a specialized field that requires extra training and in some cases additional equipment, an appointment for such care may in many cases be more expensive than a conventional dentist’s appointment. Consult with your insurance and talk to different special care dentistry professionals in your area to find the price that works best with your financial needs in addition to your care needs.


We hope you’ve learned a bit more about the field of special care dentistry and that you’re now on your way to finding dentistry for special needs near you. Every patient deserves to find special care and emergency dentistry that works with them and for them in order to provide the best oral health possible. So don’t be discouraged by the task or frightened by the possibilities and get in touch with a special care dentist today.