Education of dentists in the treatment of patients with special needs.

The dental education system has been suggested as the vital link in providing a workforce capable of improving oral health for people with special needs. Dental education institutions not only train dental professionals for their role in providing oral health services for people with special needs, they also provide a significant amount of services to this population in their clinical environments. However, there is no consensus about whether to concentrate the educational efforts on the pre or postdoctoral level, or both. Furthermore, it is not clear if educational initiatives in the care of patients with special needs will translate into a larger oral health workforce willing to treat these patients. However, for the purposes of this paper, it will be assumed that more education and training in special care dentistry will lead to better-educated dentists and the desired result of better access to care for special needs patients. The authors will define special needs patients as those who have a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition, and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that the general population requires. This paper will describe accreditation issues and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of special care education in pre- and postdoctoral training and beyond.