Poor oral hygiene in individuals with Developmental Disabilities ( Autism, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, etc.) is almost a consistent challenge for healthcare providers. The importance of proper oral care goes beyond a pretty smile, or simple esthetics. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to multiple health conditions, including but no limited to:
*Periodontal Disease. Lack of good brushing and flossing habits frequently leads to periodontal (gum) disease.
*Heart Disease, Heart Attack and Stroke. Bacteria from periodontal disease have been found in the plaque that clogs the arteries of people with heart disease.
* Memory Loss. Researchers are continuing to look into the connection between periodontal disease and memory loss. When the arteries to the brain are affected, it can lead to memory loss and dementia.
* Cancer. Various studies show a connection between poor oral hygiene and certain forms of cancer involving the head and neck, esophagus, and lungs.
* Pregnancy Complications. Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to experience preterm deliveries and low birth weights.
* Respiratory Problems. Inhaling the bacteria found in severe periodontal disease can lead to respiratory problems and infections. This is especially true for people who already have lung problems. Aspiration Pneumonias are critically affected by poor oral care.
Gladly, Occupational therapists with specialties and experience in working with individuals with
developmental disabilities are equipped with techniques and tools to address any type of difficulties in order to help their clients in achieving a more effective way to complete oral care; An individual with lack of coordination or joints contractures can be provided with appropriate equipment to be used for optimal effect during tooth brushing; I can speak for my own experiences with many of my clients with Autism and ADHD, as well as severe sensory processing disorder issues, which are related to poor sensory tactile organization; The clients I have served have been able to overcome tactile defensiveness and tolerate complete tooth brushing and flossing sessions due to consistent routines and sensory techniques, with no signs of anxiety or discomfort. My recommendation as an OT who has desensitized many individuals over 26 years of practice with the above, and many more types of issues related to poor sensory integration is, to never settle for poor oral hygiene and to seek consultation with a therapist with expertise in this types of desensitization practices regardless of how severe you might think it is; You and /or your love one will avoid many health problems in the future related to the well known neglected practice of "Effective oral care".
Berenice Sansone OTR/L