Caregivers Important to Oral Health of Adults With Disabilities

Caregivers play a vital role in the oral health of adults with developmental disabilities, a newly published study concludes. But little is known about effective at-home oral care methods for people unable to perform personal preventive practices themselves.

People with developmental disabilities (DDs) have a high prevalence of cavities, gum disease and tooth loss, the study said. If a person with a developmental disability cannot independently brush or floss, caregivers can provide assistance and support.

Researchers surveyed caregivers who had extensive experience providing care for people with one or more condition or type of disability, the most prevalent including intellectual disabilities, behavioral and communication problems and physical impairments. More caregivers said they felt confident assisting with brushing than with flossing. Among survey results:

*85 percent of adults with DD received assistance with teeth cleaning.
*79 percent brushed twice daily as recommended by the American Dental Association.
*22 percent flossed daily as recommended by the American Dental Association.
*45 percent never flossed.

“Although the caregiver’s contribution to oral health outcomes is not well understood, given the emphasis on home care, he or she may play a pivotal role – along with the dental professional and the patient – in improving the oral health status of adults with DDs,” the study concluded. “Our finding also support the inclusion of at-home oral care in comprehensive approaches to promote the oral health of adults in this population.”

The report by Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts University School of Dental Medicine researchers appears in the October issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. Caregivers who would like tips on how to help people with developmental disabilities with their oral care can visit nidcr.nih.gov for a resource published by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “Dental Care Every Day: A Caregiver’s Guide.”

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