Survey Identifies Barriers to Care in Treating Special Needs Dental Patients

Dentistry Today


The Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) recently conducted a survey to evaluate the attitudes and willingness of general and specialty dentists to treat people with special needs and to identify the barriers to greater participation by dentists in such care.

According to the OHWRC, the number of children with disabilities has increased in the United States, along with the number of older adults with chronic and disabling health conditions. Such diagnoses, the OHWRC continued, make good oral health difficult to maintain.

Specifically, people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities are more likely to have poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, and untreated dental caries than the general population, the OHWRC said. So, it added, it is important to understand whether dentists are providing services to people with special needs.

The 766 survey respondents indicated that the most common accommodations provided by dentists who treat people with special needs included increased time to complete the appointment as well as structural features such as wide hallways and corridors, wheelchair ramps, easy transfer to dental chairs, and the ability to treat patients in their own chairs.

Dentist who don’t treat people with special needs said that the main barriers to serving this population included the fact that they weren’t Medicaid providers, they didn’t get appointment requests from such patients, and their offices weren’t properly equipped to accommodate people with special needs.

Training or experience in working with people with special needs through continuing education, community involvement and didactic education, and clinical training in residency programs had the most impact on dentists who reported serving “many” people with special needs.

Education in dental schools and experience with family or friends with special needs also were significantly associated with the likelihood of a dentist providing care for “many” people with special needs.

“It is clear from our survey results that dentists believe it is important to provide oral health services for people with special needs,” said Simona Surdu, project director of the University of Albany Center for Health Workforce Studies, where the OHWRC is located.

“The majority indicated that dental education and training increased their awareness, confidence, and willingness to treat people with special needs and enhanced their effectiveness in caring for this population,” said Surdu.

The OHWRC conducted the study in collaboration with the ADA Health Policy Institute, the Specialty Care Dentistry Association, and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry.

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