Dentists for disabled adults and children

This information applies to England and Wales.

A general dentist can be accessible for some people, with the right adjustments. You have a legal right to reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.

Some disabled adults and children need treatment from a specialist dental service. They are usually called a community dentist. You need a referral from a general dentist, GP or other professional to see a community dentist.

Free NHS dentist treatment

You may be eligible for free NHS dental treatment in an NHS general or specialist service.

You cannot get help with the costs of private dental treatment.

Free NHS dental treatment

General dentist services

With the right adjustments, a general dentist might be accessible.

The waiting list for general dentists is usually shorter than for specialist dental services.

Checking if dentists are accessible to you

If you cannot read letters because you have a visual impairment you could say:

  • "My condition means that letters are not accessible to me. Please could you send me emails instead of posting me letters?"

You could ask the surgery to find out if it's accessible to you.

For example, if you use a wheelchair you might ask:

  • "Are there any steps into the building?"
  • "Is the surgery on the ground floor?"
  • "Are there any steps up or down to the room where I'll be having my appointment?"
  • "I need to get my wheelchair next to the dentist's chair to transfer safely. Is there enough room for me to do this?"
  • "Can the arms of the chair be moved to make it easier to transfer?"

If you need a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter, you could say:

"I will need a British Sign Language interpreter to support me during my appointment. It is the only way I will be able to understand what surgery staff are saying. Is this something we could arrange?"

Reasonable adjustments

The surgery must make reasonable adjustments so that it's accessible to you.

There is no set definition of what is 'reasonable'. It depends on:

  • what you need
  • how expensive the adjustments might be
  • if the adjustments are legal

Adjusting policies which usually apply to all patients can also be a reasonable adjustment, depending on what you need.

For example, the surgery might not allow dogs into appointments. But allowing assistance dogs would be reasonable under the Equality Act 2010.

Asking for reasonable adjustments

If they refuse reasonable adjustments

Send an email or letter saying what you need and why.

For example:

"I understand that you do not normally allow dogs in. But there is a legal requirement for you to make adjustments so that your service is accessible to disabled people. My dog is a guide dog and I need them to access your surgery. Please can you discuss this with the practice owner or manager."

If they still refuse, ask to see the practice's complaints procedure. The procedure should say:

You can also ask the dental practice to refer you to a specialist dental service.

For example:

"As you cannot offer me an accessible service, can you refer me somewhere else?"

Specialist community dental services for disabled people

You need a referral to access a specialist dentist service. They may be able to offer home visits, if that's what you need.

For example, you may need a specialist dental service if your condition affects your movement. They may be able to give you sedation to help you stay still.

Specialist dental services usually have longer waiting lists than general dentists.

You can get a referral from a:

  • GP
  • social worker
  • learning disability worker
  • hospital doctor

Contact NHS England if you want to find out more about community dentists.

Dental treatment for people with special needs (NHS)

Managing anxiety

You could:

Some dental services may be able to give you sedation, depending on your condition. Talk to your dentist if you feel that sedation might help.

On the day of your appointment, you could:

  • bring somebody to support you with your visit
  • bring something to do that might help you relax

Preparing for a dentist appointment

Before your appointment, you could:

  • speak to your dentist and nurses to explain how you feel and decide together what to do
  • agree with your dentist on a signal you will make if you want them to stop
  • ask if you can have someone with you during your appointment

Helping someone to prepare for an appointment

Often, talking about what will happen before the appointment can help. You could use visual tools, for example:

  • a calendar if your child finds it hard to understand dates and times
  • pictures of the things and people they will see at the dentist

You could ask to visit the dentist in advance so that you can:

  • visit the building
  • meet the dentist and other staff

Your child will notice how you speak about going to the dentist. Explain what is going to happen in a positive way, even if you might be scared of going to the dentist.

You could also ask the dentist to show your child what equipment they will use and how it works. Choose words that you think your child will understand. For example:

  • instead of ‘local anesthetic’ you could say ‘numbing water’
  • instead of ‘drill’ you could say ‘buzzing tooth cleaner’

Last reviewed by Scope on: 29/02/2024

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