A comprehensive study using electronic dental records to profile the oral health status of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) has concluded that access to specialized dental care alone is not sufficient to meet the community's substantial oral health needs. The findings, published as the cover article in the August issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association, provide a foundation for further investigation into the significant oral health needs of adults with I/DD and the development of preventive oral health strategies.
The study of dental records of 4,732 people, led by dentists and public
health professionals at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine
(TUSDM) and Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM), was conducted at
the Tufts Dental Facilities Serving People with Special Needs (TDF), a
network of Massachusetts dental clinics that provides oral health care
to people with disabilities.
Each year, Tufts' program, which is recognized by the Association of
State & Territorial Dental Directors as a national model, serves
more than 7,000 patients at seven clinics in Massachusetts. The findings
released today are the first of a three-part study conducted by
principal investigators John Morgan, D.D.S., associate professor in the
department of public health and community service at TUSDM, and Paula
Minihan, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the department of public
health and community medicine at TUSM.
"People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely
to have poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease and untreated tooth
decay than the general population," said Morgan. "Our findings highlight
the need for greater awareness of the unique and complex dental health
care needs of this population. The roles of the patient, care giver and
dental provider are all vital in developing preventive strategies to
improve oral health."
Morgan and colleagues analyzed clinical and demographic data documented
in electronic dental records over a one-year period. They investigated
oral health conditions (e.g. dental caries (cavities), periodontal (gum)
disease, etc.), age, gender, ability to receive dental examinations and
procedures, level of disability, and type of residence. Of the 4,732
patients whose records were reviewed, 61% were reported to have a mild
to moderate disability, and 39% were assessed as having a severe
disability. Dental records revealed a high burden of oral disease,
including dental caries (cavities), periodontitis (gum disease) and missing teeth.
Nearly 25% of the patients had a limited ability to accept any dental
intervention and required specialized resources, such as general
anesthesia. Almost 40% of all patients able to accept dental treatment
required some form of behavioral assistance. These behavioral challenges
pose difficulties for dental staff when providing diagnostic and
therapeutic procedures. "Behavioral challenges present barriers to good
oral health and overall health," Morgan said. "Often patients with
significant developmental disabilities cannot tolerate complex and time
consuming dental treatments."
"From a public health perspective, our findings signal the need for the
development of best practices for dental treatment guidelines that
promote and protect the oral health of this vulnerable population," said
co-investigator Aviva Must, Ph.D., professor and dean of public health
and professional degree programs at TUSM. "Further research is required
to identify and develop risk-based preventive interventions to manage
oral diseases for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities
and maximize the role of the dental professional, patient, and
caregiver in promoting oral health."