Caring for special needs patients in the dental office

Every day I get to treat at least one patient who has special needs, and honestly, they are my favorite patients. You might think the exact opposite, and believe me, until I gained experience, did some research, and attended some courses about special needs, I felt the same way!

If you’re stressed, so is your patient. Patients can sense how you’re feeling based on the way you present yourself. Your facial expressions, eyes, tone and pitch of your voice, and gestures give patients signals and they feed off of those. They’ll respond based on how you make them feel. You need to act confident, talk to your patients, and comfort them through their appointments. Remember, they’re nervous too.

© Tomasz Markowski –

I have toys and plush animals that I let patients hold during their appointments, and I also use these as oral hygiene instruction (OHI) tools. They’re friendly and create a comforting space for patients so they don’t feel alone. If a patient is very scared, I use a puppet to demonstrate everything first. You won’t get far in some appointments, but it is progress and they will improve by their next visit.

The energy you bring to an appointment will determine how that appointment will go. Be positive and friendly, and smile and talk to your patients! Let’s discuss my top five must-haves for appointments with special needs patients:

1. Cavitron

2. Flavored prophy paste

3. Blanket or lead apron