Support for patients with disability in dental clinics

special needsIn an interview with Jörg Vogel, the importance of educating dentists on the topic of special needs dentistry is discussed.

As dental professionals, we know how important it is for everyone to have access to good oral health care. Yet, for people with disabilities, visiting a dentist can sometimes seem virtually impossible. Jörg Vogel, vice president sales international special clinic solutions for Dentsply Sirona, discusses how the industry can do more for people with special needs.

Why is it important to educate dentists about working with patients with special needs?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 15% of the world’s population is living with a disability. That is approx. more than one billion people. However, a study from Australian Dental Journal found that 41% of children with special needs from Melbourne get insufficient or no dental treatment at all. Everyone has a right to reliably good dental care.

Everyone has a right to reliably good dental care and we as an industry need to do better for patients with special needs. This not only means ensuring treatment rooms are fitted with the right equipment but also training dentists how to work with people with special needs.    

What are the current barriers?

Special needs dentistry relies on both clinics having access to appropriate equipment and students being trained how to treat people with disabilities. Yet, out of the more than 1,300 dental schools worldwide, there are only a few in Europe and in the US that provide curriculum sessions to educate students on catering to patients with special needs. Special needs dentistry has been a fringe topic for too long, it’s time we make it a priority. 

How is Dentsply Sirona leading the way in this area?

Dentsply Sirona is the only dental company globally with a focus on special needs dentistry. Several universities throughout the world have already been fitted with our products and solutions. We are proud to partner with them to help optimise care for patients with special needs. We are also working with the WHO to create broader awareness of special needs dentistry in dental universities.

What are Dentsply Sirona’s greatest achievements in this area?

We invest USD150 million in R&D each year and offer a range of specific and holistic design solutions for people with disabilities such as the single-visit dentistry with chairside scanning and milling to reduce stress and visits to the dentist, wheelchair solutions, anaesthesia sedation solutions, sound-proof room concepts and mounted rail systems to move bariatric patients into the dental chair. The patented speed control in our T1 turbine has proven particularly effective in treating patients with disabilities and our turbines are very quiet. This helps to ease tension among patients that experience discomfort with instrument noise.

The Intego treatment centre has the lowest entry position in the dental market and our digital imaging solutions like Axeos allow stress-free images taken with patients sitting in the wheelchair. With special ambient lights, stress for the patients might be reduced.

How can clinics create a more friendly and welcoming environment for patients with special needs?

In general, patients with special needs cannot just arrive at the clinic, take a seat and have their treatment done. However, there are a variety of different needs and barriers to consider – both physical and cognitive. Some patients could benefit from intelligent architecture, room planning and sensory features that minimise contact and stimuli, helping alleviate their fears and tensions. Others with restricted mobility need assistance getting inside the clinic and into the chair.

Integrated systems can also help. This allows for ‘single-visit dentistry’ where patients don’t need to visit the clinic several times to complete treatment. Above all, patience, empathy, and good communication skills are needed to help patients feel at ease.

How costly is it to treat patients with disabilities?

Many clinics have reservations about adapting their space for special needs dentistry as they anticipate big investments. However, you can achieve a lot with quite basic modifications to existing equipment and organisational changes. This could mean using X-ray units that allow patients to stay in wheelchairs, switching to quiet instruments or ensuring there is enough space in the treatment room for a carer to be present. These small changes can make a huge difference for patients and their families, making their whole experience much less stressful. 

What motivates you most to improve dentistry care for people with special needs?

Everyone deserves the best dental care, regardless of any condition or special needs. It’s a necessity, not a nice to have. Making the industry more inclusive is genuinely important to me. Knowing that we are helping take the stress out of dental treatment for patients and their families that may have previously struggled to access care is very motivating and rewarding.

How can the industry better support patients with special needs to ensure they receive the best treatment possible?

There is definitely opportunity for improved education at university level. Dentists come to the ‘real world’ prepared to work with all the different patients they might encounter. An industry-wide commitment to develop dental concepts, tools and also products. As well as clinic spaces that accommodate patients with a disability, would be another great step in this direction.

This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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