Special Needs Dental Patients
Caring for Patients with Special Needs
Caring for the dental health of someone who has a disability often proves challenging. A person with Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, may neglect daily oral care and get defensive if a loved one or caregiver tries to help. Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions that affect movement can interfere with brushing and flossing. For those with Down syndrome or autism, even a routine cleaning can be traumatic.
Additionally, many of these individuals take medications that cause side effects, such as dry mouth that contribute to decay and cavities. Some patients may not have seen a dentist in years. Finding a dental practice that has the experience to treat people with disabilities and has the expertise to earn the trust of special needs patients can be a lifesaver to family members and caregivers.
Dr. James Lipton has been providing compassionate, quality dental care for medically challenged individuals in the guarded environment of hospitals and surgery centers for over 20 years. With a dentist who understands special needs patients, oral healthcare can be a positive and empowering experience for everyone involved.
Initially, if possible, dental examination and x-rays are completed in Dr. Lipton’s office prior to a written treatment plan. Dr. Lipton and appropriate specialists (if indicated) will be responsible for all dental treatment in the operating room, while the anesthesiologist and patient’s physician will be responsible for medical oversight while in the hospital.
Understanding the Challenges
Alzheimer’s – As Alzheimers disease progresses, symptoms of forgetfulness and dementia increasingly take a toll on a person’s hygiene and daily routine. The patient may become confused and even combative. Caregiver’s attempts to help may fall short. As a result, a person with Alzheimer’s may require frequent cleanings and dental check-ups. Sedation and other comfort measures may be a necessity for even simple procedures.
Parkinson’s – The tremors associated with Parkinson’s make it progressively more difficult for those affected by the condition to control their movement. Fine motor skills required for brushing and flossing diminish. An estimated 40 percent of Parkinson’s patients suffer from depression, as well. They also face an increased risk for dementia. Good dental health can contribute to a high quality of life, helping them continue to enjoy the pleasures of fine meals and conversation.
Cerebral Palsy – In addition to problems with movement and mobility, many people with cerebral palsy cannot swallow properly. An excess of harmful bacteria, which saliva usually help wash out, remains inside the mouth. Spasticity, circulation changes, and other neurological complications also contribute to poor oral hygiene. So, it’s essential for patient health plans to included regular dental visits.
Down Syndrome – A key to treating those with Down syndrome or other developmental delays is trust. It’s important to assure these patient’s that they won’t be harmed or restrained in any way. Because one of the hallmarks of Down syndrome is an enlarged tongue, many patient’s have overactive swallow or gag reflexes. Their immune systems also may be compromised, so measures to prevent the spread of infection and to proactively treat periodontal disease are crucial for this population.
Medications used to treat complications of these conditions frequently contribute to dental problems as well. Xerostomia, or “dry mouth,” is a common side effect. Symptoms include mouth dryness, burning sensations, difficulty eating, difficulty swallowing or speaking, sore throat, irritation of the tongue, and painful ulcerations. Since it is linked to eating problems, xerostomia can negatively impact nutrition also.