One billion people currently experience some form of disability. This is nearly one in seven of the world's population.

Types and severity of disability varies from country-to-country but here in the UK, more than half (57%) of those registered as disabled have mobility impairments while around three in ten (28%) experience difficulties with dexterity.

Both of these can have a negative impact on a person’s oral health so it is important for carers to know and understand how these groups should be supported when it comes to their dental hygiene.

Everybody needs and deserves access to quality dental care. However, some people need special facilities or services to have this care provided. People with physical disabilities may have problems getting into the surgery or even into the dental chair.

These are barriers which most of us take for granted.

Appropriate transport

One of the major difficulties disabled people face is accessing appropriate transport and with 100 million people worldwide requiring the use of a wheelchair, it is important that suitable vehicles are used to maintain regular dental visits. 

Dental practices should offer facilities for wheelchair users, including access to the practice, and ground-floor surgeries. If wheelchair access is particularly important, contact the surgery and ask if this is something they are prepared for. Some clinics have specially adapted surgeries for patients with mobility problems. You can check this with the dental practice before the appointment.

Carers responsibility

Carers and family members also need to take responsibility of supporting a physically disabled person to effectively manage their oral health at home on a daily basis. 

For some people, moving their arms or hands can be a problem, which makes effective cleaning difficult. It is important to reach all the areas of the mouth to clean effectively. 

A toothbrush with a small to medium head size with soft-to-medium bristles is usually recommended. There are special handgrips and other adaptations which can be fitted to manual toothbrushes to make them easier to hold.

In some cases, electric or ‘power' toothbrushes are recommended for people with mobility problems. They are also helpful to people with learning difficulties as they can be a novelty and therefore encourage brushing. The dentist or dental team will be able to offer advice and practical help on brushing and general mouth care.

If the person you are helping is unable to use their arms or hands to effectively clean their teeth, it is important for you to assist them. Sit behind the wheelchair, lock the wheels and then tilt the chair into your lap.

You can also stand behind the person or lean against a wall for additional support. Then use your arm to hold the person's head gently against your body, before brushing their teeth.

Remember that the bathroom is not the only place to brush your teeth. If you have difficulties getting the person to the bathroom, then teeth can be brushed in the kitchen or even in the living room.


Useful resources:

If you would like to ask a question about caring for the oral health of somebody with disabilities, you can contact the Dental Helpline via email at [email protected] or telephone on 01788 539780.