Article About How Dentists Treat Children With Special Needs

By Derbhile Graham

This article appeared in a 2008 edition of The Irish Examiner Feelgood SupplementBy, a health and lifestyle supplement.

People with special needs face greater dental health problems than the rest of the population and public-sector dentists are forced to deliver a high-quality service with limited resources.

“There is a large amount of unmet need,” said Prof June Nunn, Professor of Special Care Dentistry at Trinity College Dental School. “Access to special services like general anaesthetic (GA), which people with severe impairments particularly need, is limited. Patients are often waiting weeks even for emergency access.”

Dublin only has one GA list for the country’s largest centre of population, but other services can be accessed whenever patients need it. “We have a comprehensive service in place,” says Berna Treacy, Senior Clinical Dental Surgeon for children with special needs in the HSE South Lee Region in Cork. “If someone rings up in pain, they can see a special needs dentist that day.”

The Department of Health has funded training in sedation techniques at Dublin Dental Hospital and Prof Nunn believes training for all public-sector dentists is the key to ensuring a high standard of service for patients with special needs. “We must ensure that the whole dental team are appropriately trained so that there is good access for all patients.”

Meanwhile, dentists on the ground have evolved their own techniques for dealing with special-needs patients. “We use a show-tell-do method, tell them what we’re going, show them what we’re going to do and then do it,” says Berna Treacy. “We introduce them slowly to it and they gradually get used to it.”

Marion Phelan’s 11 year old son David is autistic and uses the HSE’s special-needs dental service in Waterford.

“There’s no way you could give David treatment. He finds the noise level difficult. But we find the dentist very accommodating. She takes her time with him and takes him through everything step-by-step. He doesn’t have to keep his mouth open all the time; she gives him a break. Recently, he allowed her to use the air gun on his cheek.”

“He understands that if he’s calm and keeps his mouth open, he can go to the toy shop afterwards. They play games of dentist at school and the techniques he learns at school follow on in the surgery.”

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