Specialized dental care for adults with developmental disabilities proposed in B.C.

Everything from plaque, bad breath and irreversible bone loss will account for why you should be making those dreaded visits to the dentist. WSJ’s Angela Chen explains. Photo: Getty

No one likes going to the dentist, but for adults with developmental disabilities it can be a particularly trying experience.

Some have trouble brushing and flossing their teeth on their own, with caregivers having to do it for them. Then when they get to the dentists’ office it can be hard to communicate what the issue is—and that’s assuming they have a way to pay for dental care.

Some people, like Graeme Rush, a 28-year-old with profound autism, require dental treatment under general anesthesia, says his mother Joan Rush. Up until age 18 there are good programs set up to help people with developmental disabilities, but after that, it becomes more challenging, says Joan, who is a retired lawyer and former adjunct professor in the faculties of law and dentistry at the University of British Columbia (UBC). So she proposed a project named Help! Teeth Hurt!!: Creating a Specialized Dental Clinic for Adults with Developmental Disabilities as part of UBC’s start an evolution campaign. People can vote for her project and others online, and finalists will be announced Mar. 23.

“Most dentists don’t get any specific training to deal with patients with developmental disabilities,” Rush told Yahoo Canada News in an interview.

While programs differ from province to province and school to school, Rush wants to see mandatory training at the undergraduate level to ensure dentists know how to care for patients with conditions, such as Down syndrome or autism.

For years Graeme was hitting himself in the face, says his mother. It took an immense amount of time and elbow grease to navigate the dental system and get her son proper help. Graeme ended up having 17 cavities, then having to go through five root canals, Rush says.

But, she notes many adults with developmental disabilities do not have advocates helping them or money to pay for care. She wrote a report urging the government in B.C. to do more to help. While funding and support varies across Canada, it’s an issue for people across the country.

“This is a national problem,” says Rush, who is based in Vancouver. “We need to provide normal, basic dental care for needy people … Many people who developmental disabilities are extraordinarily poor.”