As one might suspect, the physical and developmental challenges of special needs patients can present a certain level of difficulty when it comes to orthodontic care. But according to a recent article published by The American Association of Orthodontists, this is fortunately beginning to change. Patients with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities are able to have their orthodontic needs taken care of thanks to advances in treatment technology, as well as education in caring for these types of patients, becoming more widely available to orthodontists.
An orthodontist with a history of treating special needs patients stated that “As recently as ten years ago, many orthodontists lacked the education and experience to work with patients with disabilities, and as a result, patients and caregivers were frustrated.”
This frustration is completely understandable not only because of the importance of oral health but also because, just like the rest of the population, these patients would benefit greatly from the boost in confidence gained by a healthy, beautiful smile. Organizations such as the American Association of Orthodontists are looking to have an impact by offering doctors continuing education on the matter. Doctors are documenting their successes and producing case studies to help further the level of education that is available. What’s even more amazing is that some orthodontic practices are taking it a step further and reaching out to special education teachers within their communities in order to learn about how to work with specific disabilities. These combined efforts are having a huge impact on the orthodontic industry and the lives of adults and children with special needs.
Patients with cerebral palsy struggle with excessive saliva, muscle control and an open bite with protruding front teeth that is coupled with tongue thrusting. Because of their open bite they are unable to close their lips which also contributes to their excessive flow of saliva. Through the use of removable aligner trays, temporary anchorage devices or simple surgeries, many of these problems can now be addressed. For example a case handled by an orthodontist out of California, is sure to tug on the heartstrings. This was a patient with cerebral palsy who struggled to eat on her own and required supervision during every meal in case she began to choke. As the orthodontist explains, “By straightening the patient’s teeth and aligning the jaw, she is now able to eat on her own. This is a huge lifestyle change for both patient and caregiver.”
Additional benefits are being had in the oral hygiene of these patients as well. Oftentimes the teeth of patients with cerebral palsy are crowded or poorly aligned. This results in the patient, or caregiver, having a difficult time with flossing or brushing of the teeth. With the option to remove the aligners that comes with using Invisalign removable aligners, and as the alignment of the teeth are corrected, this becomes an easier task. Due to the fact that the condition of their teeth is too complicated to use removable aligners, patients with downs syndrome are often fitted with traditional braces. In cases such as these, orthodontists are able to use tools like smaller hygienic brackets to make oral hygiene easier on both patient and caregiver. It is also noted that electronic and ultrasonic tooth brushing systems are beneficial to all patients.
While not all orthodontic practices treat special needs patients, the number that do will surely continue to grow as awareness increases, technologies improve and the level of education is expanded upon. In just ten years the orthodontic industry has come a long way in the treatment of special needs patients.
We can only imagine what will be possible with the advancements brought on in the next ten.