Your life might be flooded with physical therapy and doctor’s visits, but chances are there are a few sticky notes on your refrigerator about calling the dentist. It’s easy to put this off when your child’s teeth look just fine, but dentists recommend scheduling the first checkup around the 1st birthday. They want to make sure those little teeth are making a healthy entry.
Sometimes a disability or special health care need affects the health of a child’s teeth and gums. It might be harder to brush teeth, clean gums, and avoid tooth decay. So, you really need a dentist who can be a good partner for your family. It’s important to find a dentist who respects your child’s differences – and one who understands sensory issues, anxiety disorders, or other unique concerns.
How to Find a Dentist
- Connect with other parents to get the names and numbers of dentists they’d recommend.
- Look at a dentist’s brochure or website to see if they treat children with disabilities or special health care needs.
- Check out dentists who specialize in pediatric care. Many of them are better able to adjust their care to accommodate children with disabilities or special health care needs.
- Call the dentist’s office and ask how they would handle your child’s needs before you go in. See what you think of their answers.
- Look at a support group online for your child’s specific disability to see if anyone has recommended dentists or creative ideas for when you visit the dentist. For example, see the Autism Speaks Resource Guide for tips.
Making Each Visit Easier
- Write a brief letter about your child’s diagnosis, what you or your child is doing to take care of their teeth at home, and any struggles you have. You can put this into your care notebook and bring it with you to share with the dentist. See our Organizing Medical Records page to learn more about care notebooks.
- Ask ahead of time for a private room, extra time with the dentist, and extra staff for a teeth cleaning. Usually, you shouldn’t have to pay more for these services.
- If a visit did not go well, a good dentist should work with you to come up with a different approach for the next one.
- See our tips for how to talk to your doctor about strategies to help manage your child’s anxiety at the dentist’s office.
- If your child is already going to have anesthesia for one treatment, consider combining many things at the same time. Maybe a cleaning, X-rays, fluoride, and stain removal all at once.
- If the dentist makes a treatment plan for a dental problem, ask for something in writing so you understand the reason for the procedure and what it will cost.
- Thinking out of the box helps establish trust between your dentist and child. When a visit is getting too long, for example, a dentist might be willing to split a routine checkup into 2 different visits.
Paying for Dental Care
- Medicaid covers dental services for eligible children.
- Many other insurance companies offer dental care plans. See our Insurance and Health Care Benefits Programs page to learn more about insurance.
- You could try to work out pricing with your dentist. Many offer discounts for people who are uninsured.
- Dental Lifeline is a nonprofit where volunteers give free dental care to people with disabilities. There is a waiting list and limited county support. You can find more information at the Dental Lifeline website.
- Taking your child to the dentist regularly, along with keeping those teeth and gums clean, can save you money in the long run. It might help you skip expensive treatments.
Suggested Links to Additional Resources