News + Issues

Treating patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities

A recent ADA Morning Huddle emphasized the importance of finding a dental home. The Orange County Register article specifically focused on patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). New this year, ASDA’s Council on Professional Issues began an initiative to regularly highlight at-risk populations for the next few months. This months’s focus is on special needs dentistry, particularly, treating IDD patients. For a better look into this population, I interviewed Katie Kline, an IDD hygienist from Orchard Park, New York.

Rachel: How long have you been a hygienist, an ID/DD hygienist, and how did you get into this particular niche?

Katie: I have been a dental hygienist for three and a half years. Three of those years I was considered an “IDD hygienist.” Working with IDD patients can be challenging. I understand why people are intimidated treating IDD patients because there are extra obstacles. I have always felt that I had the ability to go the extra mile to connect with my patients. It is rewarding knowing that I am helping someone more than simply debriding their teeth. In our program my patients are scheduled with me for recalls, providing them with a familiar face. I love having the opportunity to build a more meaningful relationship with my patients.

Katie Kline, RDH

Rachel: For someone interested in going into special needs dentistry, whether as a hygienist, assistant or dentist, what advice would you offer them as someone already in the field?

Katie: My advice would be to think outside the box. Learning to adapt to different patients’ personalities cannot be learned from a book. Many times it is all about being goofy to get your patients to feel comfortable. If they are fearful, it is difficult to get them to cooperate. To help the patients feel comfortable I schedule sensitization appointments once a month. I schedule the patients in the same room so they can become familiar with the surroundings.

Rachel: What are some personal highlights from working with IDD patients? Some challenges?

Katie: The absolute best part is seeing my patients have a breakthrough in their appointments. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a patient that struggled at previous appointments suddenly feel comfortable. The hardest part is when the patient is not making any progress.

Rachel: What is one thing you’ve learned as you work with IDD patients?

Katie: It is not silly if it works. No matter what goofy things you have to say, do or sing. If it helps, do it.

Rachel: Where do you see the future of IDD dentistry heading in the next five years?

Katie: It is my hope that the work of IDD dentistry expands. At this time there are not many options for IDD patients. It would be nice if dental providers felt more comfortable treating IDD patients.

Rachel: If you were teaching a seminar to dental students about IDD dentistry, what major topics would you cover?

Katie: I would discuss IDD diagnosis and how it may affect dental treatment. Included in the treatment discussion would be different products that are available for IDD patients. The most important thing I can teach someone is individualizing treatment for IDD patients.


As dentists, it is crucial we go the extra mile to challenge existing barriers to care. IDD patients have limited access to care because of the amount of available providers. As dental students, we have the opportunity to learn more about this patient population. Through our council’s initiatives, we hope to provide useful information to improve the treatment of underserved populations. Learn more about the goals of the Council on Professional Issues.

~Rachel Kim, Buffalo ’19, associate, Council on Professional Issues

Rachel Kim

Rachel Kim is a third-year student at the University at Buffalo. She is currently an associate on the Council on Professional Issues and serves on the District 2 cabinet as a Program Coordinator. She enjoys petting corgis, traveling and trying new foods.

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