Should My Special Needs Foster Teen Go to a General or Pediatric Dentist?

I’ve recently become a foster parent. I choose to work with special needs children. They give us training, but of course, there is no way to teach us about every single issue that comes up. What I am up against now is that he needs to see a dentist. He is sixteen years old and is pretty much a child in a man’s body because of his special needs. Of course, he doesn’t want to be treated like a child. I am trying to decide whether to take him to a pediatric dentist or a general dentist. My concern is he will be hurt or offended about the idea of a pediatric dentist but that his social skills and compliance issues, which aren’t bad except when his anxiety jumps through the roof, will be an issue with the general dentist. Do you have any recommendations for me?


Dear Pricilla,

Happy girl in pediatric dental chair

First, let me say right off that bat that I admire you for taking on foster children, and especially those with special needs. You are amazing. The first thing I would do is look up some websites of pediatric dentists that are in your insurance network. Show your foster son the pictures they have on the site and see what he thinks. If he gets excited about it, go to a pediatric dentist. If he complains that it is for little kids, you still have a good option.

There are general dentists who like to treat children. However, some are better at working with children than others. If a general dentist recommends bringing in children as young as two years old, then you can know they are good at working with kiddos and really enjoy them. If they want you to wait until the child is about five or six years old, then I would look for someone else.

Whichever you end up with, I have two additional recommendations. First, is that you let the office know ahead of time about his special needs. The second is that you set up a time for him to “tour” the dental office and meet the staff. That way it won’t be a totally new experience for him when he goes in for his dental care.

This blog is brought to you by Gilbert Dentist Dr. Matt Roper.