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Study: Adults With Special Needs See Gains, Challenges with Long Term Oral Care

Tufts University School of Dental Medicine researchers found that adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities were less likely to get cavities as they receive dental care over the years.

However, researchers continue to see a "statistically significant trend" for gum disease in adults with special needs despite receiving dental care, according to their findings published in the July/August issue of Special Care in Dentistry.

"There are only limited data about the results of dental treatment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States. The goal of this study was to help fill the gap in knowledge that is necessary to develop prevention and treatment protocols for adults with special needs," said statistician and first author Dr. Matthew Finkelman, Ph.D., associate professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.

According to, the ADA's consumer website, patients with special needs are those due to physical, medical, developmental or cognitive conditions require special consideration when receiving dental treatment.

The researchers reviewed the dental records of 107 patients at one of the eight clinics of the Tufts Dental Facilities Serving Persons with Special Needs to determine how selected oral health outcomes changed during about 10 years of dental care treatment.
Dr. Finkelman and his colleagues reviewed dental records to determine the presence of cavities, gum disease, dental pain, infection, cooperation level during dental exams, and dental hygiene for each individual at three times: the initial visit, midpoint visit, and most recent visit to the Tufts dental facility.

Overall, cavity rates declined over the course of treatment. At the first visit, the rate of cavities was greater than 60 percent; at subsequent time periods, it was lower than 45 percent.

This benefit did not extend to risk of gum disease. The researchers note that this increase is consistent with the progression of the disease in an aging adult population.
"Our findings suggest that even among patients who receive routine dental care, significant oral health problems remain. The challenge now is to determine how we can find effective solutions to these problems," said Dr. John Morgan, associate professor in the department of public health and community service at TUSDM.

Caring for a special needs patient takes compassion and understanding. While most dentists can accommodate for special needs patients, some dentists focus on meeting the needs and working with the limitations of these patients, according to If you, your child or someone you know has special needs, talk with your dentist to discuss your options.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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