But for patients with an intellectual or physical disability, it can be a major ordeal.
Recently, there have been several reports on the significant obstacles people with all kinds of disabilities face in accessing the medical care they need.
People in wheelchairs, for instance, struggle with significant barriers trying to get appointments with medical specialists, according to a recent study by Dr. Tara Lagu, an internist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. And if you’re poor or mentally ill, dental care is even tougher to access, notes a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine. Here, a dentist and Tufts University associate professor who treats people with disabilities offers his perspective on overcoming the towering barriers to oral health for the disabled.
By John Morgan, DDS
Dental care for people with disabilities can be particularly complex. It can also be life-changing.
An acquaintance of mine has a teenage daughter with a mild-to-moderate intellectual disability who attends a middle school in Boston. Because of badly aligned teeth and an open bite, she couldn’t close her mouth completely or use her tongue to speak effectively. On the recommendation of her daughter’s speech therapist and the encouragement of hygienists working with special needs children, the girl’s mother found a dental office that could manage her daughter’s dental care.
For three years, the daughter and her mom made three-hour trips by public transportation for monthly (sometimes more often) visits the dentist. But it was worth it. When the orthodontic treatment was completed, the girl’s speech was so improved that she was able to gain employment at a local fast food restaurant. She had gone from shy, awkward girl who hardly spoke to a girl who smiles and talks and enjoys being social.
On WBUR recently, Rachel Zimmerman’s piece, “Caring For Kevin: An Autistic Man, An Exceptional Doctor, A Life Renewed” – sheds needed light on the unique challenges of medical care for people with disabilities and their caregivers. Oral health is a fundamental part of overall health, and dental care for people with disabilities presents similar complexities. The challenges to providing dental care can be at least as complex, if not more so.
A recent study I conducted with my colleagues at Tufts University, published in The Journal of the American Dental Association documented the urgent need for dental care among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For instance, they are much more likely to have poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, untreated tooth decay and missing teeth than the general population. Specifically, in our review of the electronic dental records of more than 4,700 people who received care, we found:
•10.9% of all patients did not have any teeth Continue reading