Special Needs and Dental Treatment

DFC Symbol
Written by the Dental Fear Central Web Team
Last updated on July 28, 2021

Many dentists are happy to treat people with special needs in their practice. But some people have problems finding a dentist who can help them.

If you are in the UK

You may be eligible to use the Community Dental Service (CDS) if you have special needs. In some areas of the UK, the CDS is known as the Public Dental Service or the Salaried Primary Care Dental Service.

Special needs may include

  • physical and/or learning disabilities
  • mental health problems
  • being too overweight for standard dental chairs
  • severe medical problems
  • being house-bound (also as a result of agoraphobia)
  • homelessness
  • dental phobia.

Available services vary from area to area. And not all areas provide services for dental phobia. In that case, you can still ask your dentist for a referral to an NHS sedation clinic (if that’s what want).

In some areas, you can access the Community Dental Service directly. But more commonly, you’ll need a referral from a dentist, your GP, or another healthcare professional.

A CDS (Community Dental Services) clinic for people with special needs, including dental phobia

The Community Dental Service is provided by

  • Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England
  • Local Health Boards in Wales, and
  • Health Boards in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In some parts of England, the Community Dental Services are now a social enterprise called Community Dental Services CIC. As of January 2021, this included clinics across Bedfordshire, Luton, Suffolk, Derbyshire, Suffolk, Thetford, Norfolk, Waveney, Essex, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, and Oxfordshire.

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

The community dental service employs specially trained staff. They can provide dental care for adults and children who need specialist services, or who cannot access normal dental practices.

Unlike “ordinary” NHS dentists, they are paid a fixed salary. Dentists who cater to special needs patients can usually provide sedation. Where absolutely necessary, they can also provide treatment under general anaesthesia.

Is the Community Dental Service NHS or private?

The CDS is an NHS service. It’s open to anyone, regardless of their income or employment status. In some parts of England, where the CDS has been turned into a social enterprise, you can pay privately for some of their services.

In recent years, the CDS has been stripped down in some areas of England, due to budget cuts. 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 the best way forward.

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

  • In England, contact NHS England on 0300 311 2233.
  • In Scotland, you can ask your GP for a referral to the Community Dental Service/Public Dental Service. Or google for “community dental service” and your area to see if you can contact them directly.

What makes a special needs dentist tick? And why would you make dentures that look like Elvis Presley’s teeth? Read our interview with Gordon Laurie, a specialist in Special Needs Dentistry, and all will be revealed!

If you are in the U.S.

The Special Care Dentistry Association has a page where you can search for oral health care professionals who treat patients with special needs.

The American Dental Association’s Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations gives the following general 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 helping patients with your specific condition.
  • Find out if the dentist participates in your dental benefit plan or dental insurance program.
  • Ask if the premises are accessible to the disabled.

In addition, the Council suggests that patients with special needs

  • 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.
  • CDS Easy Read Dental Booklet – Lots of topics are covered, including caring for your teeth, having a cleaning, having an x-ray, having your teeth numbed, having a filling, and many more.

You may also like: