Preparing dental graduates to provide care to individuals with special needs.

In 2004, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) adopted a new standard that directs dental and dental hygiene programs to prepare dental professionals for the care of persons with special health care needs. This article reviews the demographics of individuals with special needs, documents that most dental schools provide their students with very limited educational opportunities related to the care of this population, describes the path that was followed to bring about change in the accrediting standard, and discusses the difficulties involved in developing the needed educational programs. Educational programs at two dental schools are presented as examples of how schools can provide students with learning experiences pertinent to the new CODA standard that states: “Graduates must be competent in assessing the treatment needs of patients with special needs.”