Everyone has the right to comprehensive, quality dental care. The oral health of those with learning disabilities can often be put at risk because of poor communication and a general lack of understanding about their needs.

An individual with a learning disability may not wholly understand or appreciate the importance of keeping a healthy mouth. This can be difficult for parents or carers trying to get the individual to co-operate with a healthy day-to-day routine.

Those with special needs may also become over-anxious at the thought of going to the dentist or may need extra reassurance. Those people suffering from severe medical problems may also need extra precautions or care.

What carers can do

To address this, there are several things you could do.

First and foremost, you should ensure those with learning disabilities have the opportunities to learn about their oral health and that information is provided in ways that take communication difficulties into account.

Plain English literature or picture-based books are available which are targeted at people with learning difficulties.

Those with severe learning and communication difficulties may also not be able to express discomfort or pain in usual ways. Parents and carers must be aware of this and sensitive to changes in behaviour or well-being that indicate pain, illness or unhappiness.

Some may prefer to be seen at certain times of the day depending on their needs. For instance, evening appointments may not be suitable for those that tire easily or may spend the day worrying. It is important to recognise that some people rely heavily on routine and may need regular appointments at the same time.

Those with learning difficulties tend to receive less oral health care than the general population. And just like all of those who do not see their dentist regularly, they may have oral care problems that can affect their general health and wellbeing.

It is important for parents and carers to learn about how to develop good oral health routines for those with learning disabilities so that poor oral health can be avoided.

Useful resources: