Dental Care for Children with Special Health Care Needs | Research and Innovation

About us

The Department of Dentistry at Boston Children’s Hospital believes that all children are entitled to a dental care approach that takes their special needs into consideration. For more than 30 years, our unique program has tended to the special needs of medically compromised children by providing quality care and advocating on their behalf

Each member of our pediatric dentistry staff has experience treating children with wide range of medical and emotional needs. And since we work within Children’s, we’re familiar with the dental aspects of any given condition and know what questions to ask the rest of your child’s medical team.

We also understand that medically compromised children have special limits, both physically and emotionally. If a child is in a wheelchair, we know how to position them so they can stay in their wheelchair during their dental appointment. For children with autism, we try to keep the dental staff, along with the day and time of their appointments, consistent. We may also use weighted blankets on children who require them.

Anxiety and nervousness are also concerns that we address. This might mean giving children  some time during their initial visit to explore the dental office and explaining what we will be doing during the procedure.  We’ll go slowly through each dental technique, sometimes demonstrating them on a parent or favorite stuffed animal first.

Since we know how difficult it can be caring for a child’s teeth at home, we have recommendations for parents and caregivers on ways that can make it easier. We encourage parents to ask us for suggestions on brushing teeth at home and ways to help them put their child at less risk for tooth decay.

Services we provide

In addition to routine comprehensive dental care, our services include:

  • dental visits in the dental clinic on a more frequent basis
  • pre-surgery examinations for children undergoing major medical procedures
  • emergency dental services
  • full mouth dental rehabilitation (outpatient basis, or in the operating room when appropriate)
  • oral hygiene and dietary counseling comprehensive cavity protection programs

Further Research

The Dental Care for Children with Special Health Care Needs Program at Boston Children’s Hospital is currently working in collaboration with pediatricians from Massachusetts General Hospital to examine behavior in children with autism with the goal of improving comfort levels during office visits through the use of visual techniques.

The first part of the study looks at the baseline behavior of autistic children during their initial visit to the dental clinic. The second part of the study has the children divided into different groups. One group of children watches a video at home of what their next dental procedure will entail.  A second group of children brings the video with them to their next appointment and watches it on a portable DVD player during their dental procedure. A third group of children also watches the video during the procedure, this time using special glasses that utilize sound and visuals to create a total “video emersion”.

Research is still underway as to which technique improves behavior best in autistic patients.