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February 7, 2024

Inclusive Dental Initiative Celebrated During National Children's Dental Health Month

Inclusive Dental Initiative Celebrated During National Children's Dental Health Month

In recognition of National Children’s Dental Health Month this February, the New York State Council on Developmental Disabilities (CDD) and Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM) are celebrating their partnership on a unique program to increase access to proper dental care for people with developmental disabilities (DD).

The program, called Smiles United, was created in 2020 through a CDD grant and is designed to help people with DD overcome barriers to dental treatment by providing oral health education, including hands-on teaching tools and much-needed dental hygiene supplies, to them and their caregivers.

“We have heard for a long time about difficulties experienced by individuals with developmental disabilities in accessing dental services,” said Kristin Proud, CDD Executive Director. “Many general dentists are not adequately trained to appropriately handle situations that may arise when treating individuals with DD, and their caregivers often struggle to find relevant oral health information and dentists to provide needed care. All children and adults for that matter deserve proper dental treatment regardless of their diagnosis or ability.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children with developmental disabilities are more likely to have unmet dental needs than children without disabilities and are at greater risk of developing dental disease. Some reasons include use of medicine high in sugar, dependence on a caregiver for regular oral hygiene, and certain physical or behavioral conditions that may impact oral health habits.

Through the Smiles United initiative, participating group homes and caregivers were surveyed to find out general and specific oral health care challenges they face in taking care of individuals with developmental disabilities at home.

Led by two TCDM faculty members with advanced training in special care dentistry, Dr. Raquel Rozdolski, D.M.D. and Dr. Susan DiSenso-Browne, D.D.S., a Smiles United team of dental students was created. This team developed a series of educational, pre-recorded videos, which have been provided to group homes for caregivers to view. These educational videos explain and demonstrate helpful techniques for maintaining the oral health of residents. Oral hygiene kits containing supplies tailored to the specific needs of their agency and individual residents were also distributed.

"Access to basic oral health care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in New York State is severely deficient.  COVID-19 further underscored this reality for individuals with IDD and their caregivers.  The Smiles United aim was to provide caregivers with the education, accommodations, guidance and tools they needed to empower them to confidently provide daily oral home care to individuals under their care,” said Dr. Raquel Rozdolski, D.M.D. “Based on the data we obtained from this project, we can prove that these educational video modules met our initial goals.  However, our work is not nearly finished, this was only one small step in our mission to provide more equitable oral health care to individuals in New York State with IDD."

The goal of Smiles United is to not only break down barriers to oral health care for people with DD, but also to have the project serve as a model that all group homes can utilize to further educate their caregivers and improve the overall health of their residents. The Smiles United team will continue to make the educational video modules free and readily accessible on the YouTube platform for all individuals and agencies to utilize.

See a video overview of the Smiles United project and the full instructional video series here: https://youtu.be/gUebJKCW3oA?list=PLbR9yMAv46xVmfcq7VIeQctelsbqeA19-

National Children's Dental Health Month is sponsored each February by the American Dental Association to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers, teachers, and many others.

The mission of the CDD is to enhance the lives of New Yorkers with developmental disabilities and their families through programs that promote self-advocacy, participation, and inclusion in all facets of community life.