The Importance of Regular Dental Visits to People with Disabilities

It is crucial for persons with disabilities and their caregivers to understand the importance of routine dental check-ups. This is especially so as regular oral hygiene practices and dental visits [...]

Often, people tend to visit a dentist only if they experience pain or have an oral condition that requires immediate attention. While most of these conditions can be prevented through regular checks by dentists, the benefits of regular dental visits may be overlooked by many.

For persons with disabilities (PWDs), it is even more crucial for their caregivers to understand the importance of routine dental check-ups. This is especially so as regular oral hygiene practices and dental visits may be challenging for PWDs. For instance, PWDs with limited upper limb movement may face difficulties in tasks like brushing or flossing, thus affecting their oral health.

People with physical disabilities may also face hurdles such as mobility challenges, lack of transportation and/or barriers like stairs in the clinics, which may influence their access to oral care and dental attendance. A delay in obtaining treatment or appropriate advice to prevent oral diseases can lead to a need for crisis pain relief management, rather than restorative care to prevent dental issues 2.

According to the Ministry of Health, the frequency of dental check-ups depends on an individual’s risk assessment. People with lower risk are generally recommended a routine check every 12 to 18 months, while people with higher risk may need more frequent reviews 3. To help caregivers make dental visits a more regular routine for their care recipients, it is important to first understand the procedures involved in a dental visit. In general, there are two components to a regular dental visit: a dental examination and oral prophylaxis (scaling) 4.

1. Dental examination

A wheelchair user undergoing a dental X-ray examination
A wheelchair user undergoing a dental X-ray examination. Photo credit: delawarepublic.org

Dental examination generally involves the following procedures:

  • Early detection of dental caries (tooth decay) which usually includes an X-ray examination to detect caries in between the teeth 4.
  • Checking for plaque (a clear, sticky layer of bacteria) and tartar (hardened plaque) on teeth which can lead to oral diseases4.
  • Inspection of gum health by measuring the depth of space between the teeth and gums4.
  • Detailed examination of tongue, throat, face, head, and neck for patches, swelling, or possible signs of cancer 4,5.

2. Oral prophylaxis (scaling)

This is a preventive treatment that involves routine professional cleaning of plaque and tartar on teeth, thus reducing chances of tooth decay and gum disease4. It is usually followed by polishing to remove surface stains on teeth and flossing to clean the areas between teeth4,5.

Other benefits of regular dental visits include:

  • Dentist can advise on basic dental care such as brushing, flossing etc which may not be fully understood by many 1.
  • Dentist can provide necessary guidance and treatments in issues which one may not realise is related to dental health 1,6. For example, conditions like jaw pain could be related to grinding of teeth which a dentist could help to identify and treat 6.
  • Chronic bad breath (halitosis) may be ignored by many, but a dentist can pinpoint the cause and treat it or detect the underlying medical condition causing halitosis 1.
A wheelchair user receiving treatment from a dentist and his assistant
Dental treatment is important for PWDs too. Photo credit: https://jcda.ca/article/a8

The importance of regular dental visits should never be overlooked or underestimated. In Singapore, there are general dentists who provide oral care services to those with special needs. However, if complex treatment is required, general dentists can refer the patient to specialist dentists who are trained for special needs patient care. Caregivers can refer to this page for a list of dental clinics and contact them to enquire on their services before making an appointment.

Routine dental visits allow the dentist to tailor advice and provide guidance, which in turn can help to reduce dental problems and treatment cost incurred by the patient. Clinicians and patients must work together to enable adequate access to oral care, thus benefitting the long-term health of an individual.

Stay tuned for more tips to achieving better dental health in our next article.

This article is contributed by Dr Sneha Sundar Rajan. Dr Sneha has a master’s degree in Dental Surgery (MDS) from Manipal University, India. She was a researcher with the National University of Singapore at the Faculty of Dentistry and Centre for Advanced 2D materials before taking a break for motherhood.

References

  1. https://fermeliadental.com/7-important-benefits-of-regular-dental-visits/
  2. https://www.specialistdentalgroup.com/media_coverage/the-straits-times-29-july-2019-how-often-should-you-visit-your-dentist/
  3. http://www.bsdh.org/documents/physical.pdf
  4. https://www.dentalcare.com/en-us/patient-education/patient-materials/why-are-regular-dental-visits-important#:~:text=Regular%20dental%20visits%20are%20important,your%20teeth%20and%20gums%20healthy.&text=During%20the%20dental%20check%20up,and%20may%20polish%20your%20teeth
  5. https://www.dentalhealth.org/blog/the-importance-of-regular-dental-visits
  6. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/cracking-under-pressure-dentists-see-more-cases-of-damaged-teeth-in-pandemic

7. https://www.msf.gov.sg/policies/Pages/Dental-Services-for-Persons-with-Special-Needs.aspx