Special Dental Patients Require Special Care
Cavities. A disease that affects a majority of Americans is easily fixed with a quick trip to a dentist's office. But how does a person with disabilities, who may be confined to a bed or wheelchair, have cavities filled or receive a dental exam? For the more than 50 million people with disabilities, oral health is among their most neglected needs.
"Unfortunately when physicians treat a child or an adult with a disability, dental care often has a lower priority in the face of other health problems," said Fred Margolis, DDS, past president of the Illinois Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped and staff dentist at a residential facility for the developmentally disabled. "Sometimes dentists are unfamiliar in treating persons with disabilities because many dental schools provide little training about caring for these patients."
"Yet, children with disabilities must visit the dentist regularly because they are very susceptible to dental disease," said Dr. Margolis. Genetic disorders or very high fevers can cause weakened enamel, which makes the enamel prone to cavity development. Gum disease and poorly aligned teeth are prevalent in children with Down syndrome.
"Increased dental decay is commonplace because many medications have a high sucrose content," said Dr. Margolis. Some children with disabilities are also restricted to soft diets and do not have the abrasive particles to help remove food and plaque.
Although children and adults may have a disability or a disabling condition, they can still take care of their teeth or rely on their family members for assistance, said Dr. Margolis. A dentist or dental hygienist can teach family members how to properly brush and floss a special patient's teeth.
"Family members should also speak to their dentist about the special devices available for brushing and flossing teeth," said Dr. Margolis. Certain mouthrinses can be prescribed for the patient that will increase saliva flow and reduce plaque build-up.
Although dentists specially trained in providing dental care for persons with disabilities are sometimes hard to locate, family members have choices to finding dental care. Check with a primary care provider, local hospitals with on-staff dentists or contact a local dental society about mobile dentistry services, advises Dr. Margolis. Family members who have a child in a center for the developmentally disabled should inquire about on-site dental care or access to a mobile dentistry service.
Updated: February 2007