Special needs dentistry: perception, attitudes and educational experience of Malaysian dental students

Eur J Dent Educ. 2015 Feb;19(1):44-52. doi: 10.1111/eje.12101. Epub 2014 Apr 30.


A compromised oral health condition amongst patients with special health care needs (SHCN) has been associated with the reluctance and shortage of skills of dental professionals in managing such patients. Lack of training and experience at the undergraduate level are reported barriers to the provision of care for this patient cohort. Undergraduate education therefore, plays an important role in producing professionals with the knowledge, skills and positive attitude in treating patients with SHCN. This study aims to determine the level of knowledge, comfort and attitudes of Malaysian undergraduate dental students towards caring for patients with SHCN, as well as their perception on education in this field. A self-administered questionnaire was administered in the classroom style to final year undergraduate dental students in Malaysian public dental schools. Most students were aware of Special Needs Dentistry (SND) as a specialty after being informed by academic staff. The majority of the students demonstrated poor knowledge in defining SND and felt uncomfortable providing care for such patients. They perceived their undergraduate training in SND as inadequate with most students agreeing that they should receive didactic and clinical training at undergraduate level. A high percentage of students also expressed interest in pursuing postgraduate education in this area of dentistry despite the lack of educational exposure during undergraduate years. The study supports a need for educational reform to formulate a curriculum that is more patient-centred, with earlier clinical exposure in various clinical settings for students to treat patients with special health care needs, applying the concept of holistic care in a variable clinical condition.

Keywords: dental education; disability; special care dentistry; special health care needs; special needs dentistry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dental Care for Disabled*
  • Education, Dental*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Malaysia
  • Male
  • Students, Dental / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires