Dental Schools to Train Students to Treat People with Disabilities

Reported by the National Council on Disability

Everyone has the right to good dental careAs recommended by the National Council on Disability (NCD), all U.S. dental schools must now revamp their curricula and training programs to be inclusive of patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD).

The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) recently passed votes requiring dental schools to now train their students in managing treatment of patients with ID/DD. Previously, patients with ID/DD were largely unable to obtain dental care treatment because dental students were simply not required to learn to manage their treatment.

“Every dental patient in America deserves the same care, whether or not they have a disability,” said NCD Chairman Neil Romano. “NCD applauds this decision that we view as necessary for people with ID/DD to obtain critical access to dental treatment, which is critical to the total health of all people.”

CODA held and passed four related votes regarding the pre-doctoral dental, orthodontics, dental hygiene, and dental assistant programs:

Pre-Doctoral Programs and Orthodontics  Dental students must be trained to assess and manage the treatment of patients with disabilities.

Dental Hygiene Programs   Students must be competent in providing care to all patient populations.

Dental Assistant Programs   Students must be familiarized with patients whose medical, physical, psychological, or social conditions make it necessary to modify normal dental routines.

CODA generally defines people with “special needs” as people with developmental disabilities, cognitive impairment, complex medical problems, significant physical limitations, and the vulnerable elderly.

These changes are required to take effect by July 1, 2020, with changes to the orthodontics programs required by Jan. 1.

NCD first made recommendations to CODA following its 2017 issue brief “Neglected for Too Long: Dental Care for Patients with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” in which NCD’s findings included:

  • Adults with developmental disabilities are at risk for multiple health problems including poor oral health.
  • People with I/DD regularly face an uphill battle in finding clinicians properly trained to treat them because most dentists lack the proper training and exposure with respect to the health and psycho-social needs of this population.
  • According to one study, more than 50 percent of dental and medical school deans have stated that their graduates are not competent to treat patients with I/DD; as a result, people with I/DD are more likely to have poor oral hygiene, periodontal disease, and untreated dental caries than are members of the general population.
  • People with I/DD have been more likely to not have had their teeth cleaned in the past five years, or never to have had their teeth cleaned, than those who are not disabled.
  • Due to the lack of proper skills among dentists, dental care is often more difficult to find than any other type of service for people with I/DD.

Last year, NCD successfully worked with the American Dental Association to revise its Code of Professional Conduct to state that “dentists shall not refuse to accept patients into their practice or deny dental service to patients because of the patient’s…disability.” This code revision was adopted by many states as state law of professional conduct.

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