There is much to be said about the various ways we can prioritize our health. But one important piece commonly ignored in this conversation is dental care.
And you are not alone. Caregivers and people with developmental and intellectual disabilities often overlook dental care. Instead, they prioritize their time and resources to manage other health issues.
While a cavity isn’t something people associate with the rest of the body, we’re here to remind you oral health and overall health are more connected that one might think. We call this relationship the Mouth-Body Connection®.
It’s one thing to not prioritize oral treatment. It’s another to not have access to care. According to a 2012 study in The Journal of the American Dental Association, people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities receiving care from state-supported clinics do not always receive care for their oral care problems. The study of the electronic health records determined that in this population of over 4,700 people, 32 percent had untreated cavities, 80 percent had untreated gum disease, and nearly 11 percent had missing teeth that were not replaced with prosthetics.
Admittedly, the lack of treatment could be because there are not enough state-supported treatment centers for this population. For example, a May 2022 article for Calmatters.org, a nonpartisan and nonprofit news organization, reveals that California has only 14 centers to treat tens of thousands of Californians living with disabilities in the state. In some cases where there are serious dental oral care problems to treat, ones that can require general anesthesia or surgical procedures, patients can wait for a year to get time in the chair. With the lack of centers, caregivers are often required to take time off work, drive from distant parts of the state, and pay for overnight hotel stays out of pocket – on top of surgical fees. 
Caregivers and people living with disabilities face a difficult choice: get the necessary treatment or hope for the best. And while the later can be more convenient, treatment is essential. Gum health and inflammation both play a massive role in the health conditions associated with the Mouth-Body Connection. Recent research shows gum disease is associated with a higher risk for other systemic conditions. These conditions include Alzheimer's, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, respiratory disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Gum disease is also linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes.
The good news is that gum disease is easily treatable. The solution: keep bacteria, which causes gum disease, under control. Taking care of teeth and gums, eating a balanced and nutritious diet, and breaking any unhealthy habits that contribute to poor oral health, keeps the bacteria at bay and the gums healthy.
Smile Generation-trusted practices are proud to partner with the Special Olympics and are passionate about helping athletes maintain the best possible oral health. We hope this article has been helpful for patients and their caregivers regarding the patient's oral and overall health. We intended for this article to supplement patient care at any of our Smile Generation practices nationwide. After all, athletes should visit their dental teams at least twice a year. Regular cleanings and checkups help patients have a beautiful and healthy smile, which is especially important when standing on the podium.
Click the link below to find a Smile Generation-trusted dental practice nearby for you or someone you love.
Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education, and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968 and celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 6 million athletes and Unified Sports partners in more than 190 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations, and partners, including Bank of America, the Christmas Records Trust, The Coca-Cola Company, ESPN, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, Lions Clubs International, Microsoft, Safilo Group, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, TOYOTA, United Airlines, and The Walt Disney Company.
Learn more at www.SpecialOlympics.org.
 Morgan JP, Minihan PM, Stark PC, et al. The oral health status of 4,732 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. J Am Dent Assoc. 2012;143(8):838-846. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2012.0288
 Hwang, K. (2022) 'like torture': For Californians with special needs, getting to see a dentist can take years, CalMatters. CalMatters. Available at: https://calmatters.org/health/2022/05/special-needs-dental-patients/ (Accessed: November 8, 2022).