Dental patient FAQs
Preparation can help a special needs patient get ready to visit the dentist. Considerations and questions to ask your dentist during the initial appointment are suggested below.
Physical and mobility concerns
- Where is the best place to park, or to enter the building?
- Can the office hallways or clinical rooms accommodate the patient’s means of movement?
- Would someone from the office be available to help with access?
- Does the patient have allergies, medical conditions, medications and had previous surgeries?
- Who is the patient’s primary care physician? Have this contact information available in case the dentist needs additional information.
- Is there something that the dental team could do with lighting, sounds or music that could help with the patient in case there are sensory issues?
- Will there be a service animal?
- Is there a time of day that is best suited for the patient’s appointment?
- What should the dental team know about the patient’s emotional needs in order to better communicate with and care for the patient?
While it may seem there is a lot to consider before an initial dental visit, the above information is valuable for creating a safe and welcoming environment to care for the special needs patient.
Baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear which is typically around six months. The good news is that tooth decay is preventable! Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft, infant toothbrush or cloth and water.
When your child’s teeth begin to come in, brush baby teeth twice a day with a child-size
toothbrush and “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
For 2 to 5-year-olds, dispense no more than a “pea-size” amount of fluoridated toothpaste and help your child brush. Remember that young children do not have the coordination to brush their teeth effectively. Children should spit out and not swallow excess toothpaste after brushing.
Comparison of a smear (left) with a pea-sized (right) amount of toothpaste.
The dentist owns the records, but the patient owns the information contained in the records. As such, the patient has a right to examine and/or obtain a copy of his or her records at any time. Patients may obtain copies of their dental records by paying a reasonable copying cost.
The dentist is not required to and should not relinquish physical possession of the original records.
Examinations and X-rays are important tools a dentist uses to assess and maintain a patient's oral health.
Exams must be done at least once a year by a dentist for patients being seen by a dental hygienist without the dentist present. State statute doesn't dictate how often exams must be performed if the dentist is always present, but that is most likely because it is assumed that if the dentist is present he or she is performing examinations.
From a liability standpoint, a dentist should examine a patient on a "regular" basis. The WDA recommends dental offices set forth individual office policies on frequency of dental examinations.
Also, other factors may influence how often a dentist needs to examine a patient. For example, a dentist should conduct an exam before performing any clinical treatment, since an exam will help determine the proper course of treatment to be followed. In addition, patients may need to be seen more frequently if they have serious or ongoing oral health issues.
X-rays are often a part of dental exams and, while there is no statutory direction as to how often a dentist must take X-rays, it’s difficult to do a thorough diagnosis or monitor a patient’s oral health without taking X-rays in reasonable intervals throughout the patient's "lifetime" at the dental office.
How frequently dental X-rays are needed depends on your present medical and oral health, age, risk for disease and any signs or symptoms of oral disease you may be experiencing.
Patients with high risk factors may require films to be taken more frequently than those with lower risk. Children also may require X-rays more often than adults, because their teeth and jaws are still developing and are more likely to be affected by tooth decay.
Your dentist will review your history and examine your mouth before deciding whether X-rays are appropriate during your visit. For new patients, dentists may recommend X-rays to determine your present oral health status and help identify any changes that might occur later.
Dental X-rays are an important part of an oral examination and your dentist must follow recommended guidelines and use his or her professional judgment in reviewing your unique situation to determine what is clinically best for you. X-rays provide your dentist with a valuable diagnostic tool that helps assess the overall condition of your teeth and their roots, jaw placement and overall composition of your facial bones. X-rays also can detect new cavities, help determine the status of your gum health and evaluate the growth and development of teeth.
X-rays help your dentist see diseases of the teeth and surrounding tissue that cannot be seen with a basic visual oral examination and find and treat dental problems early in their development. This can potentially save you money, unnecessary discomfort and maybe even your life.
If the dentist requests that a patient have X-rays taken based on their oral health needs, and the patient refuses, the dentist has the right (although he or she may choose not to exercise it) to dismiss the patient from his or her practice. The reason for this is that both the patient and dentist should be comfortable with the dentist/patient relationship and, should there be disagreement on fundamental treatment, then both parties would be better served in an environment where they are both comfortable.
The WDA strongly encourages dental patients to ask about the cost of treatment prior to having the procedures done. A variety of factors help determine the cost of procedures (which are not standardized across offices), such as where in the state the practice is located, dentist and staff training, overhead costs and whether the office accepts a particular type of insurance. To get an idea of what dental offices are charging in your area, patients may wish to consider seeking out consultation from several other local dentists. However, the cost of a procedure should not be the final determination as to which office you choose, but one where the doctor-patient relationship is most comfortable.
It is important to have a complete treatment plan and financial arrangements in place before moving forward with needed dental work.
Many think if they don’t have dental insurance, they can’t visit the dentist. Those who plan accordingly can realize long-term savings that routine dental exams and cleanings provide when problems are detected early.
Personal household budgeting is an effective way to save for dental care. Just like people budget for gas and groceries, heat and electricity, TV and phone service, setting aside a little money each month into a designated account for dental care allows them to get the care they need – without insurance.
The WDA Own Your Smile message highlights the affordability and value of choosing a healthy smile over other lifestyle expenditures.
Prevention includes regular visits to your dentist, which can identify and halt disease in its earliest stages and save money in the long run, good daily oral hygiene at home and limited consumption of sugary snacks and acidic soft drinks (regular and diet).
The WDA also maintains a list of low-cost dental clinics throughout the state as a public service.
▶ Is it legal to perform teeth whitening services in malls, salons and places other than a dental office?
If you visit a dentist, he or she must first examine you to determine if teeth whitening is appropriate for you. The Wisconsin Dentistry Examining Board says, “It is essential that a dentist examine and diagnose a patient before proceeding with teeth whitening or delegating that procedure to anyone within a dental office."
The Wisconsin Department of Justice, however, doesn’t consider teeth whitening as practicing dentistry. This makes it legal for non-dentists who have no education or skill in all the other important aspects of oral health to do teeth whitening outside a dental office and without a dentist’s diagnosis.
The WDA recommends patients consult with a dentist to see if teeth whitening is right for them and, if so, have the treatment done by a dentist or under the supervision of one. Click here to read more.
The state of Wisconsin does not issue licenses, certificates or registrations to dental assistants. Dentists and dental hygienists are the only licensed dental professionals in the state.
Dental assisting programs may grant attendees completion certificates, but that is not the same as being licensed or certified by the state. Visit the American Dental Assisting Association’s Web site for more information.
The WDA does not keep a list of dentists who see Medicaid, BadgerCare, BadgerCare Plus or Title XIX patients, but there is a toll-free hot line operated by the state that patients can call. It is the Medicaid/BadgerCare recipient hot line and the number is 800-362-3002.
The WDA, American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend children be examined by a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or dental medicine (DMD) within six months of the eruption of the first tooth and no later than age 1.
According to a February 2005 Children’s Dental Health Project report, low-income children who have their first dental exam by age 1 are less likely to visit emergency rooms for oral health problems or require restorative care. In addition, 5-year-olds who had their first dental visit at age 1 have incurred oral health-related costs at a rate about one-half that of their peers who don’t see a dentist until age 5.