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  • Learned firsthand about some of the experiences and strong perceptions held by persons with disabilities.
  • Discovered how the legal rights, and accompanying philosophical changes, have positively affected the ways in which persons with disabilities now live.
  • Gained an overview of the purposes and practices of some organizations serving the dental needs of persons with disabilities in the community.
  • Identified critical barriers to dental care in the special needs population.

1. Course Overview

Special Care in Dentistry is a curriculum designed to introduce you to some characteristics and dental care needs of persons with special needs. This syllabus describes the general format and procedures that will apply to all units. Please make sure to read this syllabus thoroughly before proceeding with the units.

Persons with developmental disabilities, attributable to mental, emotional, sensory and/or physical impairment are visiting the dental office on a regular basis. They deserve the same level of care that we all expect, but exposure to this population in dental education is often lacking. These units are designed to increase your knowledge and awareness of patients with developmental disabilities, and provide you with practical tools for providing high-quality care.  

Each of the units will follow this same general instructional format: 

  • Each unit will begin with a brief overview statement and a set of learning objectives.

  • Next, will be a required 10-item pre-test.

  • This is followed by a set of concise online lectures, with illustrations and links to supplemental materials.

  • Units then conclude with a post-test.

Here are the titles and a brief description of each unit: 

1.1. Introduction to Special Care in Dentistry

This unit provides an introduction to the need for dental care in the special needs population. We begin with a short, powerful video clip--Credo for Support--on the perspective of a person with a disability. We then move on to cover important rights legislation and the resultant shifts it has produced in the philosophy of care of the disabled population--Disability Rights and the Demand for Dental Treatment. Next, some important organizations concerned with the needs of persons with disabilities are described--Organizations to Meet the Dental Needs of Persons with Disabilities. Finally, we examine barriers to care and share the perspectives of persons with disabilities seeking dental services--Barriers to Dental Care

1.2. Intellectual Disability

Some Definitions: Intellectual disability, one type of developmental disability, affects 3 in every 100 people in the U.S. This unit begins by covering the definition, causes, diagnosis, classification and cognitive and behavioral limitations of intellectual disability. It concludes by listing oral conditions commonly seen in people with developmental disabilities. 

1.3. Medical Considerations and Syndromes

This unit will provide an overview of the nature and related dental considerations of a range of medical conditions and syndromes, including: Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorders (also referred to as Pervasive Developmental Disorders), Spina Bifida, Fragile X syndrome and Sturge-Weber syndrome.  

1.4. Applying Behavior Management in Special Care Dentistry

This unit provides coverage of the practical and ethical use of several behavior management techniques. Behavioral psychology has produced tested methods for reducing anxiety and preventing or reacting to common behavioral concerns in the dental office. The unit begins with an overview of sensory integration, moves to a testimonial in which a clinician describes various practical methods, and then presents a simple behavior tracking tool. The unit concludes with a discussion of health-related protection and pharmacologic methods of patient management.  

1.5. Preventive Care and Special Care Dentistry

This unit presents practical protocols for preventing dental disease among persons with special needs. Topical coverage includes defining fundamental oral health care practices, identifying barriers to care, implementing an oral desensitization program, and employing task analysis. This unit also describes the process and resources (including online resources) available for making evidence-based decisions in dental care of persons with developmental disabilities.

1.6. Special Considerations in Special Care Dentistry

This unit examines unique issues in working with persons with special needs, including: issues pertaining to guardianship, informed consent and the appropriate use of health-related protection.  

1.7. Case Studies in Special Care Dentistry

In this final unit, you will examine illustrated cases, exemplifying challenges seen in special care dentistry. You will be asked to actively engage in decision making, as if you were treating each case. For example, you will answer questions on line, such as "What would you do at this point?" and then receive and consider feedback on your choices.

1.8. Special Care Rotation

The Special Care Rotation (SPC) is designed to provide greater awareness surrounding the oral health needs of persons with developmental and other disabilities.