Special Needs

In the UK

Many dentists will happily treat people with special needs in their surgery. 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, 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 do 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 or another dentist.

This service is provided by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) 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.

The service is located in community health centres, and occasionally some hospitals.

The CDS is an NHS rather than a private service. Unlike “ordinary” NHS dentists, the dentists who work for the CDS are paid a fixed salary, and the treatment you get in terms of materials etc. may be better than what is normally available on the NHS. 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 anaesthetic.

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

  • Find the phone number of your local PCT or Health Board on the internet: visit www.pctdirectory.com (UK coverage), or www.wales.nhs.uk/catorgs.cfm.
  • Yellow Pages: look under “Health Authorities” for your local PCT / Health Board.
  • Now phone your local PCT / Health Board Headquarters and ask for the Dental Services Office (either “Community Dental Services” or “Dental Public Health”).

If they are not helpful enough, you could also try the PALS (Patient Advice Liaison Service) for your area or your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau. You will also find more information on available services, as well as email and phone contacts, on your local NHS/PCT website.

In some areas, Dental Access Centers appear to have taken on the role of the Community Dental Services. Again, the places listed above should be able to steer you into the right direction.

The British Dental Health Foundation has a leaflet called “Dental Care for People with Special Needs”, which you can view online here.

In the US

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.