Millions of people live with some form of disability -- 20% of the population, in fact. There are several types of disabilities: intellectual, physical/developmental or a combination of both. Disabilities can affect everyday life -- even the smallest actions, such as brushing your teeth, can be problematic for patients with special needs.
If you have a loved one who suffers from a disability, it's understandable why you may be concerned about their dental health. Some disabilities can hinder the skills needed to perform simple oral hygiene functions, increasing the possibility of tooth decay and gum disease.
Those with a mental disability may not understand the importance of dental health, and the unfamiliar sights and sounds of the dental office can cause anxiety. But as dental health affects overall health, it's important to monitor the oral hygiene routines of special needs patients and stay on top of regular dental visits.
The Dental Office Visit
Your special needs patient may require special dental health care services. Patients who have trouble practicing oral hygiene need to see their dentist more often to check for signs of dental problems, while others require more attention during the appointment. Those who suffer from a stroke, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, autism, downs syndrome, genetic disorders, paralysis and even arthritis are among the many who may need a little extra help when it comes to taking care of their teeth.
We know you want the best in dental care for your family. Now that you're ready to take your loved one to the dentist, we have some suggestions to help make their visit a little easier:
Choosing a Dentist -- Choose a dentist who accommodates special needs. A pediatric dentist may also be a good choice because of the special training they receive working with children. Many accredited dental schools now have classes devoted to working with special needs patients, and some provide care for the disabled in their clinics.
Preparing for the Dental Visit -- Preparation can help your special needs patient get ready for the dentist. Don't wait until the last minute to tell them about the visit or surprise them at the office. When discussing the dentist, visual aids from books or the internet can give the patient an idea of what to expect at the dental office.
At the Dental Office -- If you're familiar with the special needs patient's schedule, make an appointment during a time that's easy for them. Since the patient may be waiting for long periods of time, bring distractions to entertain them. It is also beneficial to make appointments with a dentist or dental hygienist the patient likes, so they see familiar faces on a consistent basis. And during the appointment, don't forget to dish out plenty of praise!
Accommodating Physical Handicaps -- When choosing a dentist, find out if they have wheelchair access and make a plan for transferring the patient to the dental chair. Let the office know if the patient needs to be restrained or supported during dental treatment. In some cases, a mouth prop can help keep the patient's mouth open when they can't do it on their own. When providing a medical history, list any allergies to dental materials, such as metal or latex.
Considering Sedation -- Because your dentist wants to provide the best care possible for your loved one, an alternative form of anesthesia may be needed. In extreme cases, sedation dentistry is used to relax a patient during treatment.
Special needs patients also need an oral hygiene routine to maintain their smile. There are several ways to make it easier for patients and their caregivers to maintain their dental health:
Homemade Devices -- For patients who have a hard time holding a toothbrush, wrap tape or an elastic bandage around the handle. You can even attach a tennis ball, sponge or rubber grip to the handle.
Electric Toothbrushes -- Mechanical toothbrushes are an excellent option for those who have trouble brushing on their own.
Dental Floss -- Waxed floss is easier to use, and dental floss holders are available for those who have a hard time working with floss.
Diet -- A diet low in sugar can reduce the possibility of tooth decay. You're taking all the right steps to keep your family's health in check, and staying on top of their dental health keeps everyone feeling great. With appropriate professional dental care and at-home oral hygiene, your special needs patient will be smiling for years to come!