Special Needs and Dental Treatment in the UK

Many dentists will happily treat people with special needs in their practice. However, some people experience problems with finding a dentist who can help them.

If you have special needs (such as physical and/or learning disabilities, being too overweight for standard dental chairs, severe medical problems, but also conditions such as agoraphobia if you are house-bound, and in many areas dental phobia as well), you may want to check out the Community Dental Service (CDS) / Salaried Primary Care Dental Service. Available services vary from area to area. In some areas you may contact the CDS directly, but more commonly, you will need a referral from your GP, a dentist or another healthcare professional.

A CDS (Community Dental Services) clinic

This service is provided by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England, Local Health Boards in Wales, and Health Boards in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It employs staff to provide dental care for adults and children unable to obtain it from a high street family dental practice. In some parts of England, the Community Dental Services are now a social enterprise called Community Dental Services CIC (as of August 2019, this included 41 clinics across Bedfordshire, Suffolk, Thetford in Norfolk, Essex, Lincolnshire, Leicester City, Leicestershire and Rutland).

The service can be located in community health centres and hospitals.

The CDS is an NHS rather than a private service (although in some parts of England, where the CDS has been turned into a social enterprise, you can pay privately for some of their services). Unlike “ordinary” NHS dentists, the dentists who work for the CDS are paid a fixed salary. Dentists who cater to special needs patients can usually provide sedation, which has become increasingly rare these days on the NHS. Where absolutely necessary, they can also provide treatment under general anaesthesia.

In recent years, due to budget cuts, the CDS has been stripped down to a bare minimum in some areas of the UK. It’s worth finding out what is actually on offer where you live. For example, in some places (though by no means all!), it has become purely a sedation service – so if your preference is for a psychological or interpersonal approach, it may not be suitable for you.

How to find your local Salaried Primary Care Dental Service / Community Dental Service:

  • In England, to find out more about the community dental care available in your area, contact NHS England on 0300 311 2233.
  • In Scotland, you can ask your GP for a referral to the Community Dental Service/Primary Care Salaried Dental Services, or google for “community dental service” and your area to see if you can contact them directly.

Special Needs and Dental Treatment in the U.S.

The American Dental Association’s Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations gives the following tips:

  • Inform the dentist about your special health or financial conditions.
  • Ask if the dentist has training and/or experience in treating patients with your specific condition.
  • Ask if the dentist has an interest in treating patients with your specific condition.
  • Find out if the dentist participates in your dental benefit plan (dental insurance program.)
  • Ask if the dental facility is accessible to the disabled.

In addition, the Council suggests that patients with special needs

  • Call or write to the dental director at your state department of public health.
  • Contact the nearest dental school clinic or hospital dental department, especially if it is affiliated with a major university.
  • Contact the Special Care Dentistry Association, the Academy of General Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry for a referral.
  • Contact the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped (NFDH), a charitable affiliate of the American Dental Association since 1988. The NFDH, via several programs, facilitates the provision of comprehensive dental care for needy disabled, elderly, and medically compromised individuals.
  • Dentists and dental institutions organizing or participating in voluntary projects that care for uninsured and underserved patients will find information, and grant opportunities through Volunteers in Health Care (VIH). VIH Program staff are available to assist you at the toll-free number 1-877-844-8442.
Other resources

Oral care and people with learning disabilities (Public Health England Guidance looking at reasonable adjustments. Publication date: 6 March 2019)

Brush My Teeth – This excellent website shows you how to brush your own teeth and how to help others brush theirs.

The information on this page has been provided by the Dental Fear Central Web Team. Last reviewed and updated on August 27, 2019. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.