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Houston Dentist - Dr. Kirk Speck D.D.S.

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Home arrow Dentist Articles arrow Finding the right Houston dentist and other tips for accessing dental care ...
Finding the right Houston dentist and other tips for accessing dental care ...
As a reader of Exceptional Parent magazine, I already know something about you: we share a commitment to helping children and adults live a full life, while managing the complexities of disability or disease. We rely on our personal and professional communities for their expertise in helping our loved ones receive the best possible care. We stay abreast of any new developments that could help provide treatment, comfort, or a cure for those in our care. We want the same standard of treatment for our loved ones with disabilities as we expect for their brothers and sisters.

If these shared bonds represent the best possible beliefs and practices, then we must reflect on the experiences of those who live in very different circumstances--those who are not getting the healthcare they need and deserve. National health surveys prove that people with disabilities "receive fewer routine health examinations, fewer immunizations, less mental healthcare, less prophylactic oral healthcare, and fewer opportunities for physical exercise and athletic achievement than do other Americans. Those with communication difficulties are especially at greater risk for poor nutrition, overmedication, injury, and abuse." *

U.S. Census data tells us that 12 percent of the population lives with a mental or physical disability, and the American Dental Association reports that 15 percent of U.S. citizens are profoundly afraid of Houston dentistry and avoid care. Hence, the size of the challenge: one-fourth of all Americans would benefit from finding a special care dental practice.

These are among the many reasons why a person may not have received dental care for a long time. Other reasons include fear, finances, insurance, distance, overarching medical issues, lack of access, social beliefs, avoidance, and even shame. In addition, some people need sedation options that aren't readily available in their city or state. As a special needs Houston dentist, I believe that all of these challenges can be solved by overcoming the greatest barrier of all: finding a Houston dentist with the skill sets to provide care for people with special needs.

You want to find an expert--someone who has experience working with disabilities and diseases, someone who listens first, giving everyone a voice in their own treatment.

Based on over two decades of experience caring for patients and families who present with a variety of clinical, emotional, and physical challenges, below is a compilation of 10 practical guidelines to help in finding the right Houston dentist for a loved one with special needs.

1. Phone Screenings and the New Patient Exam

Your search for your loved one's dental home begins with a phone call. Start by presenting all of the facts, including age, gender, diseases, conditions, emotional state, your role, guardianship, dental history, medical history, and insurance coverage. Ask for an appointment at a time of day when there is little chance of a long wait. Warn the Houston dentist if you expect some noise, tears, or any other behaviors so they can organize the best possible schedule for everyone - including their other patients. Ask about the structure of the new patient exam so that you can prepare for photos, x-rays, treatment, or discussion. If you want only to meet to review the oral health history and needs, then feel comfortable putting off any treatment until the next appointment.

At the consultation appointment, request a private, quiet setting where you and the Houston dentist can discuss medical history, medications, habits, behavioral changes, and financial arrangements. Ask about other patients of the practice. Does the Houston dentist routinely (daily, weekly or only on occasion) see other patients with Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, autism, etc? Inquire about a Houston dentist's training, licensure, accreditations, hospital affiliations, and experience. Ask about the office's safety record. Be certain the practice has adequate staffing, resuscitation, and safety equipment in the event of an emergency. Take notes during the consultation, then ask the Houston dentist who you should call if you have any questions after you get home.

2. Physical Access and Parking

The first phone call is also the best time to ask about any access challenges you may face in getting to the dental office. Ask about parking, elevators, signage, facilities, and staff who can assist you. If your loved one is in a wheelchair, find out if the treatment rooms and restrooms can accommodate it.

3. Payment Options

Rely on the expertise of the Houston dentist's team to develop a treatment plan that you can afford. Ask about maximizing your insurance coverage, staging treatment, financial arrangements, and financing plans. While many Houston dentists generously donate their talent, staff hours, services, and supplies to those with limited financial means, there are very few options for complete oral health treatment without incurring some cost.

What may start as a strategy for "saving money" by avoiding the Houston dentist can become an expensive emergency or have extenuating health impacts. If your funds are limited, phone your local special care dental office, your local dental society, or the Special Care Houston dentistry Association and ask for assistance in finding care in your area. Search the Internet to see if you live near a dental school. Dental schools need patients for the practical training of their students. Some schools even have dental clinics devoted to the treatment of people with special needs. The University Of Washington School Of Houston dentistry has a special program that treats persons with severe disabilities who are financially disadvantaged. The University of Southern California in Los Angeles has a similar program for "Special Patients." Unfortunately, some dental school clinics are facing funding cuts, which severely limit access for new patients. Sadly, one San Francisco resource, the University of the Pacific School of Houston dentistry, recently stopped all treatment in their Advanced General Houston dentistry Clinic.

If you decide to visit a local dental school or free clinic, be realistic about your capacity to participate in their schedule and appointment process. Some clinic schedules are a first-come, first-served process where you arrive at 8 a.m. with appointment times starting one hour later and lasting throughout the day. In addition, some dental schools currently have a 6 to 12 month waiting list. If your schedule cannot be accommodated by a dental school, ask for a referral to a professional who can support your expectations for care in a public or private practice setting.

4. Paperwork

Meet with the treatment coordinator to understand exactly how the practice will handle the financial arrangements of your treatment. Find out if they will submit the paperwork on your behalf or if they will ask you to complete the paperwork. Ask for a documented treatment plan, which includes all fees so that you know exactly what to expect and what treatment must be deferred until another time.

If your loved one is going to be treated at a hospital, follow the anesthesia guidelines to the letter, especially related to the guidelines for fasting.

5. Pharmaceuticals

Document and discuss with your Houston dentist any changes in your loved one's oral health and habits. Many medications and other therapies create oral complications, which can compromise patient compliance. Make note of any indications of dry mouth, altered nutrition, or reduced cooperation with daily care. Report these changes to your medical doctor and ask them to recommend a Houston dentist. Treat the signs of tooth pain or bleeding gums as emergencies by seeking immediate attention from any local Houston dentist where you can be guaranteed a same-day appointment. Even if that Houston dentist can't complete treatment, they can review the area of inflammation and make calls on your behalf within their referral network.

6. Privileges

People with disabilities such as cerebral palsy or autism may not be able to fully cooperate with dental treatment and may require sedation that is administered in a hospital setting. Call the Chief of the Dental Division at your local hospital to ask which of the general Houston dentists who have staff privileges treat patients with special needs. If the hospital does not have such a position, contact the Medical Staff office. When you reach the Houston dentist's office, ask how they choose the right sedation modality and to explain their reasoning. Is it to guard the patient's safety and welfare or minimize physical discomfort or to control anxiety and minimize psychological trauma and maximize amnesia? Is the choice based on what is best for the patient, or is it the only choice the Houston dentist is able to offer? Listening for how the Houston dentist will keep the patient safe is one of the most important considerations in choosing a Houston dentist.

7. Practicality

Houston dentists should offer support--not guilt--to parents and caretakers who sometimes face an uphill battle trying to maintain a loved one's dental hygiene. By working together, you can design a solution that will grow with your loved one as they age and mature. Discuss the home care habits and who will support the daily oral hygiene. Discuss the role of any home care helper who may need education and training by the dental team. Talk about the need for patient compliance with removable prosthetics (such as dentures) or fixed prosthetics (using dental implants). Express your goals for an aesthetic result that fits the person's personality.

8. Professional Partnerships

Ask the Houston dentist how they will coordinate any specialty treatment your loved one requires, which includes periodontal treatment, extractions, implants, and root canals. Ask the Houston dentist to coordinate these appointments in one location--and in one appointment--so that you are limiting the patient's exposure to sedation or stressful situations. Ask the Houston dentist to detail these specialty treatments in the documented treatment plan so that you can understand the full extent of the treatment and recovery--and so that you will have the names and contact information of these doctors for any follow up.

9. Prevention

There's no new news here: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Healthy teeth and gums need good preventative care. Daily brushing and flossing are just as important habits as taking the right doses of medication. (See sidebar for helpful prevention tips posted on the EP Web site's Healthcare Channel at Develop a close relationship with your registered dental hygienist and see this professional at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings. Keep your Houston dentist or the dental hygienist informed of any changes in diet, drug therapies, appetite, speech, or swallowing.

If your loved one can't travel for care or you're caring for someone who is living in a skilled nursing residential community, ask the Houston dentist if they conduct home visits. Some dental teams will conduct day-long visits to a community where they examine each resident, take x-rays, and administer cleanings. More complicated treatment is usually documented and presented to a medical director and the families for their approval. When you do undertake treatment, carefully follow all of the Houston dentist's guidelines for care and maintenance to protect your investment.

10. Personalities--More than a Smile!

People devote their careers to healthcare based on a desire to help others. Choose a Houston dentist and a dental team who will work with you to design a plan for healthy teeth and gums, which leads to an engaging smile. Find a team where you and your loved one feel respected. Ask the team to speak directly to the person, engaging them in the relationship. If the person can't speak for themselves, Houston dentists are usually grateful to the parent or caregiver who helps communicate history, experience, feelings, and preferences.

Accessing dental care is about so much more than affordability, insurance, and social programs. If you know the questions to ask and you're willing to interview your healthcare community, you can access the special care Houston dentist you need. You may not discover an expert who is both local and inexpensive, but the right questions--and the right answers--can identify a Houston dentist who will safely and compassionately treat the complex circumstances of the whole person.

Dr. David M. Blende, Special Needs Houston dentist

* U.S. Public Health Service. Closing the Gap: A National Blueprint for Improving the Health of Individuals with Mental Retardation. Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Health Disparities and Mental Retardation. February 2001. Washington, D.C.

Dr. David Blende has practiced special needs Houston dentistry for more than 20 years. Patients have traveled to the Blende Dental Group from over 18 countries and 30 states, where his team performs more definitive full mouth rehabilitation under general anesthesia than any other practice in the country. For more information, please call 1-800-575-3375 or visit