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About Oral Health

Aug 29

Teeth healthcare is vital to our overall wellness. It affects how we eat, speak and smile, as well as our ability to enjoy a good quality of life and interact with others. Poor oral healthcare can lead to serious and costly health problems including pain, disfigurement, infection and other medical issues. In fact, Healthy People 2020 lists oral healthcare as one of the 10 leading health indicators along with access to health care, nutrition, cancer, HIV and heart disease.

Dentistry is an essential part of our overall health, and should be a priority for everyone. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities do not have their oral health needs met. The reasons for this gap are multiple and complex, ranging from financial barriers to lack of access to dental clinics, to low reimbursement rates by Medicaid and other public insurance programs.

Many of the dental problems faced by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be prevented with early detection and intervention. The American Dental Association recommends that adults and children visit the dentist for regular cleanings and examinations, typically twice a year. These visits help to identify and address dental health concerns before they become severe and impact a person’s eating, speaking, self-esteem and overall health.

Oral healthcare is not usually at the forefront of people’s minds, except when they have a problem such as a toothache. But it’s just as important to take care of our teeth and gums as it is to make sure we eat a nutritious diet, get enough sleep and exercise regularly.

Keeping oral healthcare as a top priority will also ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities can participate in social activities and work, have the same opportunities for personal growth, develop healthy relationships and feel good about themselves. Taking the time to talk with your loved ones about their daily oral hygiene routines and making sure they are visiting the dentist for preventive care can make all the difference.

A good start is to find a dentist that is familiar with treating individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, either by asking your current dentist or searching online for "special needs dentists." A great resource is the website of the New York State Hospital Operating Room Program where individuals can receive comprehensive dental care under general anesthesia.

If a person with a developmental disability has not been to a dentist in the past, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment for them and to bring a support person. This will help them to feel more comfortable and may even help them to remember what to expect at a future visit. It may also be helpful to have some advance preparation, such as bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste for them to try out ahead of their actual visit. Flossing can be challenging for people with developmental disabilities, so you may want to consider investing in aids such as floss holders or floss picks.