Approximately 38 million Americans have a disability, two-thirds of which are severely debilitating.
Patients with special needs have physical, medical, developmental and/or cognitive conditions that require special consideration. This can include patients with autism, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, spinal cord injuries and countless other conditions or injuries that can make otherwise simple procedures and tasks more challenging.
Patients with severe disability may be at increased risk for oral and facial diseases and conditions requiring treatment throughout their lifetime. And since oral health is an inseparable part of general health and well-being, these diseases will have a direct and devastating impact on their health and quality of life.
Health care for individuals with special needs requires specialized expertise, elevated awareness and consideration, adaptation, and integrative measures beyond what is considered routine practice. The ideal health care offices should appreciate the unique qualities of each person and the need to ensure maximal health attainment for all; regardless of developmental disability or other special health care needs.
Some of my most fun and memorable patients are those with special needs. They have a strong sense of innocence and naivety about them. Caring for a special needs patient takes compassion, nurturing and understanding. The care providers must apprehend and have it within their hearts that no matter what transpires, the patient may not be in control of their behavior especially to foreign external stimuli. They may not completely comprehend the necessary duties to help and care for them with relation to medicine, surgery and dentistry. Therefore, we providers must see beyond just the tasks or procedures to be done and therefore the circuitous steps needed to accomplish that.
Generally, special arrangements are made to care for these patients in as low of a stressful environment as possible. If our average patient is very anxious when stepping foot into our office I can only image the anxiety a special-needs patient may demonstrate. And since they may express a greater level of anxiety about their health and dental care, the frequency of health- and dental-related visits may be reduced, which can in turn subsequently affect generalized and oral health.
In an effort for any subspecialty to provide safe and effective care on special needs patients, it is prudent for the health care provider to coordinate care and consult with the patients’ other providers.
Developmentally appropriate communication is critical when treating patients with special needs. Often, information provided by a parent or caregiver prior to the appointment can assist with ease, efficiency and effectiveness of care. A parent, family member or caregiver may need to accompany the patient to facilitate communication.
Lastly, a patient may suffer from the advancement of his or her disease/condition if treatment is not provided. Postponement or denial of care can event in unnecessary pain, discomfort and possibly diminished outcomes. With that in mind, our doors are always open to help in any way we can.
Rushi S. Patel, DDS, Ph.D., with Citrus Oral and Facial Surgery, is a graduate of Lecanto High School. Visit on the Web at www.citrusofs.com.