Our Personal Approach to Treating Patients with Special Needs


One Pediatric Dentist’s Story

*Charlie came to one of our offices last year, clutching his mother’s hand and refusing to sit in a dental chair. Over a two-month span, he visited our pediatric dentist five times. Each time he toured the office, he warmed up a little more.

As Charlie got to know us, he became more comfortable with treatment. He let us clean his teeth with a toothbrush while standing next to his mom. Eventually he sat on his mom’s lap in a dental chair and allowed us to examine his teeth. The dentist was even able to treat a cavity. Charlie is just one of our many patients on the autism spectrum.

Treating patients like Charlie is one of our specialties. Our pediatric dentists train for an additional two years to treat individuals with medical and developmental needs. Here are just a few examples of the conditions we’ve worked with:

  • Autism and Asperger’s syndrome
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Down syndrome
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Incontinentia pigmenti
  • Hearing impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy, seizure disorders
  • Non-specific intellectual disabilities and developmental delays

We try to schedule morning appointments or the first appointment after lunch, when the office is less busy. We also try to use the same room, same hygienist and same doctor from visit to visit. We believe repetition is key.

Further, we use behavioral techniques to calm our patients with special needs such as:

  • Verbal praising for good behavior
  • Awarding a prize
  • Showing a movie or TV show during treatment
  • Playing music or a favorite song
  • Using tell-show-do to introduce each instrument and each step of a procedure
  • Having the patient sit on the parent’s lap
  • Performing a knee-to-knee exam
  • Keeping a constant conversation going with the patient
  • Asking the patient to bring a favorite toy or doll
  • Taking several breaks during a procedure
  • Breaking up routine cleanings into several short appointments

All of our pediatric dentists show love, patience and compassion to their patients with special needs. Dr. Eric, one of our board certified pediatric dentists, does so from personal experience.

“I have special place in my heart for children with special needs,” says Dr. Eric. “I have a son with Down syndrome. His name is Mark and he is 18 months old. I understand the struggles, challenges and sometimes heartache that can go along with having a child with a developmental disability. However, I get to enjoy life in an entirely different way. My son has taught me humility, compassion and patience on a level that only a parent of a child with special needs can have.”

*Name changed for privacy.

We are in Potomac.