Tips And Tactics For Patients With Developmental Disabilities And Caregivers When Going To A Dental Appointment

Posted on: 9 April 2015

Dental patients with developmental disabilities and their caregivers face some distinct challenges when dealing with oral health care and dental appointments. These range from the patient's inability to communicate with their dentist, to the possibility of seizures when they are sitting in the dental chair. Consider the following barriers facing these patients, as well as the suggestions to make these situations less of an issue for the patient, the caregiver, and the provider.

Some of the challenges facing patients with developmental disabilities and their caregivers include:

Communication barriers.

Some patients may not be able to express what they are feeling or experiencing, and some may rely on their caregiver to get their points across to the dental provider. It may be necessary for the provider to have a good "bedside manner" with these patients, comforting them when they are distressed and taking time to demonstrate to reduce anxiety.

Behavioral issues.

Depending on the patient, it makes sense to make more frequent, shorter appointments, which may help those that have limited tolerance to the dental examination or treatment. The caregiver may find that bringing the patient to the office ahead of time allows the patient to garner some familiarity with the environment, which can reduce stress on the day of the appointment. Some patients may do well with having a favorite item or comforting object nearby during their appointment.

Limited mobility.

If the patient is confined to a wheelchair, ask providers about performing the exam in the wheelchair rather than put the patient at risk during a transport to the dental chair. Be sure that the practice you are visiting has handicapped access and a clear pathway to accommodate a wheelchair, walker, or other assistance device.

Gastroesophageal reflux.

If the dental patient has a disability related to their central nervous system, such as cerebral palsy, they may suffer from gastroesophageal reflux. This condition can cause the patient to gag during their examination, and they should sit upright during the procedure to avoid choking. This can cause acid to affect the enamel on their teeth too, so teeth may be eroded or damaged, which can increase sensitivity or cause discomfort.


Allergies and sensitivities are particularly important when working with patients that have had frequent surgeries, as this group is more likely to develop an issue with latex. Depending on the severity of the allergy, an allergic reaction can be life threatening, and caregivers should not be shy about informing dental providers of this sensitivity. Make appointments early in the day for patients that have these sensitivities, as there is likely less airborne allergens in the dentist's office.

For more information, contact Tyler Dental Artz Porcelain Veneers or a similar location.