As we continue to celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month, KOHC is recognizing the unique needs of children diagnosed with a Special Health Care Need (SHCN). SHCN is defined as any physical, developmental, mental, sensory, behavioral, cognitive, or emotional impairment or limiting condition that requires medical management, health care intervention, and/or use of specialized services or programs. Nearly one in five U.S. children have a SHCN.

Special health care needs can range in severity and impact a child’s oral health. The more severe the health conditions, the more likely children are to have unmet dental needs and cavities, but only about half of these children have visited a dentist in the past year. There are persistent disparities and challenges in accessing oral health care for those with SHCNs, including:

  • Lack of access to dental providers who are trained to treat patients with special needs and who have fully accessible facilities for those with physical disabilities.
  • Financial barriers as they are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, leading to high dental care costs.
  • Parents and caregivers may not have enough information about the importance of oral health for children with SHCN.
  • Behavioral challenges which may cause children to have trouble sitting still during dental procedures or require sedation.
  • Certain medications used to treat health conditions may have negative side effects on oral health, such as dry mouth which leads to an increased risk of tooth decay.

Although children with SHCNs face a number of challenges in meeting their oral health needs, there are several ways to address these disparities:

  • Providing education to dentists and dental care providers on how to care for children with special health needs, as well as on available resources and accommodations can help improve the quality of care these children receive.
  • Increasing access to dental care services through the creation of special care dental clinics and programs, and providing transportation to these clinics, can help reach children with special health needs.
  • Implementing teledentistry services for dental care can provide children with SHCNs access to care without having to leave their homes.
  • Providing education to patients and their families on oral health care, as well as on resources and supports available, can help empower them to advocate for the care their children need.
  • Building partnerships between dental care providers, schools, community organizations, and government agencies can help to coordinate and improve the delivery of dental care services to children with SHCN.

Join KOHC as we continue celebrating National Children’s Dental Health Month by spreading awareness about the importance of children’s dental health and seeking changes to improve access to equitable oral health care.