Practical Oral Care for People With Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and mental retardation are present during childhood or adolescence and last a lifetime. They affect the mind, the body, and the skills people use in everyday life: thinking, talking, and self-care. People with disabilities often need extra help to achieve and maintain good health. Oral health is no exception.

Over the past three decades, a trend toward deinstitutionalization has brought people of all ages and levels of disability into the fabric of our communities. Today, approximately 80 percent of those with developmental disabilities live in community-based group residences or at home with their families. Together with their caregivers, they now look to practitioners in the community for dental services.

Providing oral care to patients with disabilities, however, is not without its challenges--or its rewards. Variations in mental capacity, behaviour, and physical ability, for example, call for flexibility and creativity in the operatory. Some adaptation of the skills you use every day is also necessary to ensure safe and effective patient care. When the dental team is informed and prepared, most people with mild or moderate developmental disabilities can be treated successfully in the general practice setting.

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