Overcoming Challenges with Dental Care

An array of hygiene items including toothbrush

Dental care for children with disabilities can pose extra challenges for children and youth with special health care needs.

Toothbrushing and Flossing

Teaching oral care can bring extra challenges. For help with explaining the importance of Oral care in simple language, videos, and more you can find more great information on the Cavity Free SF website at http://www.cavityfreesf.org/

Until children can brush their own teeth, they must have a caregiver do it for them. While they are learning, they need a caregiver to check their brushing and flossing daily until they are independently successful. There are specialized tools that can help with motor and sensory challenges.

Dental visits

For children with sensory challenges, or who cannot understand well enough to fully cooperate, visits to the dentist can be dangerous, scary, or just too difficult. Please do not put off dental care because there are options that can help, for those who need it. Delaying dental care can lead to extra pain and costs.

Pediatric Dentists

A pediatric dentist who is gentle and takes extra time to explain what is happening, and allows the child to feel the tools can be helpful. Prizes, rewards, praise, and extra support can be helpful in soothing anxiety and gaining cooperation.

Specialized Dentists

Some children can’t be accommodated in a general dentistry practice and may require a specialized dentist for routine dental appointments. A specialized dentist may have special equipment to help make appointments easier for their patients who need a higher level of support. There are specialized tools that can help the patient maintain the proper positioning for care, comfort and safety.

Who might need Sedated Dentistry?

Sedated Dentistry can be necessary for patients who do not yet possess the ability to cooperate as needed. For example, if the patient is unable to cooperate with getting a novocaine shot or having a tooth pulled or holding still for x-Rays. This is an issue with children who are young, those with behavior challenges, sensory sensitivities, and cognitive delays.

Some patients might qualify for Medi-Cal

Patients with cognitive or developmental delays may be regional center clients. Many regional center clients qualify for Medi-Cal even when they might not qualify based on income because there is a special Medi-Cal waiver for people with developmental disabilities who meet eligibility guidelines. Click here to learn more about DD waivers. This is important because sedated dentistry can be very expensive and might not be covered by regular dental insurance. Your regional center social worker must be the one to initiate Medi-Cal coverage under the Developmental Disability waiver. Medi-Cal provides dental care coverage through Denti-Cal.

At Support for Families, we can help you with applying for Medi-Cal

If you would like help understanding if your child may qualify for Medi-Cal and/or regional center services Support for Families can do that with you. We can also help you get through all the steps of your application. Please contact us for help.

Dentists who accept Medi-Cal/Denti-Cal around San Francisco

To assist you with finding a dentist, here is a 2024 list of dentists in the San Francisco Area who accept Denti-Cal insurance. This list is provided in English, Spanish and Chinese.

What Research Shows Us

(yes, it is significantly harder for some to get dental care)

For a more in-depth and research-based exploration of the challenges of accessing dental care for I/DD Populations, including long wait times for care, discrimination, restricted access, and perhaps an over-reliance on sedation dentistry, click here: Unheard Voices: Shedding Light on the Overlooked Dental Care Challenges of I/DD Populations