Special Patients.... Aren't all patient's special? Yes, of course, but there are those who require additional attention and care. These patients are generally classified as "special needs" patients. These are children (and adults) that have medical conditions which can limit their ability to fit comfortably into the normal routine of a dental office. They may have difficulty communicating, cooperating or have physical limitations of one sort or another. Children with Down's Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy make up most of the patients in this group. There are many other syndromes or handicapping conditions that can require special attention from the doctor and staff in the dental office. Many special needs patients we see have no mental deficits or problems, it's only physical limitations. Others have very severe disabilities.
Working with these patients can be difficult, but can also be quite rewarding. Some of the sweetest and most fun times are with our Down's syndrome patients. (The picture here is of John Mark Stallings, son of former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings.)
Routine dental exams and cleanings can be a challenge, not only for the parent or caretaker, but of course for the dental team. X-rays are often not possible and just getting a good look can be very difficult. How do we do fillings or other more technically precise procedures if the patient is moving or unable to cooperate? Well, that's where Pediatric Dentists use their training and experience to find the best solution to a difficult problem. Many times special needs patients are treated in a similar manner as other patients. In some cases, however, the use of general anesthesia is the preferred method. Being asleep for dental treatment allows, x-rays, good dentistry all with the patient pleasantly asleep during the procedures. In addition to health concerns, Downs' patients often have specific dental problems like delayed eruption of teeth. There is often a higher incidence of missing and malformed teeth as well. Patients may develop malocclusions where normal orthodontic treatment modalities are limited. Many special needs patients have difficulty maintaining good oral hygiene.
One cannot state the profound satisfaction of working with special needs patients. The parents of these kids are quite amazing. Some of these "children" are in their 30's+, so the parents are much older than that, but they still show a loving dutiful caring for their children.