By ANDRE CLARKE
Mouth health is crucial to the health and well-being of people with disabilities. Good mouth health promotes communication, good nutrition, self-esteem and an enhanced quality of life. It can lead to the reduction or elimination of pain and discomfort. On the other hand, poor mouth health (bad breath, overcrowded teeth or unsightly decay) reduces a person’s ability to eat nutritious food, negatively affects self-image and confidence, and causes significant pain.
The United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be December 3, 2012. The theme this year addresses inclusion, and I hope that we can put the directive of this year’s theme into everyday practice. The theme for 2012 is, “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all”.
Inclusion of all persons with varying abilities, in all activities, is a very important practice and I applaud The United Nations for wisely deciding to continue the idea of inclusion, which was being promoted during the London Paralympics. The London Paralympics started on August 29, 2012 and continued until the September 9, 2012. It is held every four years, and this year was the 14th celebration of the Summer Paralympics games. The theme of this year’s London Paralympics games was, “Inspire a generation”.
The essential benefits arising from mouth health cannot be underestimated. Good mouth health empowers people with disabilities to face the world with more confidence, promoting their participation and contribution.
People with disabilities have a distinct mouth health profile. Research has shown that people with disabilities are more likely to have mouth health problems and require more treatment than the rest of the population. Children with disabilities, when compared to children who do not have disabilities, have 30% more untreated dental decay. They also had more extractions and less preventive work, such as fissure sealants. Adults with disabilities typically have more missing teeth, need more dental treatment and are 20% more likely to have no teeth at all, if they are over 55, when compared with non-disabled adults.
The mouth health of persons with disabilities is often time compromised by general risk factors. Research findings have pointed to possible associations between chronic mouth infections and diabetes in this population (US Surgeon General’s Report, 2000). Other research (European) indicates that persons with disabilities are at increased risk of dental decay, gum disease and mouth cancer due to poor mouth hygiene, a diet high in sugars, prevalence of cigarette smoking and the effects of medication.
Of note, persons with disabilities should be able to go for oral health services and feel like they are important to their practitioners. The practitioner should endeavor to provide quality service to a person who may have poor understanding, uncontrolled movements, limited mouth opening and poor posture. They should do the same with the patient who may have limited mobility, may experience tiredness during treatment or may have medical problems. Commonly, people with disabilities may require more specific supports and re-orientation of practice and service provision in order to access mainstream oral healthcare provision.
Oral health needs for persons with disabilities, need to become integrated into holistic health policies and be included into general healthcare professional training. Presently, oral health is, for the most part, divorced from the general health world. Doctors do not always think about the oral health implications of medication they might prescribe and dentists do not always request the doctors’ co-management on cases, as often as they should. The comprehensive management of the patient with disabilities is dependent on the revitalization of the Doctor-Dentist team.
All mouth health is important. Someone who has a disability should be treated like someone who does not have a disability. Please visit your dental healthcare professional for the standard of care you deserve.
• This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended and may not be treated as, a substitute for professional medical/dental advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or dental professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical/dental condition. Never disregard professional medical/dental advice or delay in seeking it because of a purely informational publication. If you have questions, please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.