“I have not been to a dentist in about 12 years. If it was more affordable and more accessible, I and many others in the disability community would definitely go to the dentist more often.”
Managing Consultant, Alumni Relations & Advocacy, The Viscardi Center
I feel blessed to be able to come back to the Henry Viscardi School at The Viscardi Center, my alma mater, and give back everything that they gave to me. This includes working as an advocate to help the disability community in all aspects, especially in raising awareness of the challenges we face in pursuit of accessible oral health care. That’s why I want to share my story.
The importance of dental care and going to the dentist was in instilled in me from an early age. We had a lot of people in our family who lost their teeth as adults. Our grandparents and great-grandparents have had to wear dentures, and they would remind us that a dentist can fix something before it’s too late, or can help you avoid a problem that would make it difficult to eat or chew certain foods later on in life. I also have learned that a lot of other medical issues can be seen through your oral habits. In some cases, a dentist might even see something and be able to tell you that you need to go see another medical doctor or specialist.
Despite knowing all of this, I have not been to a dentist in about 12 years. Frankly, for me, going to the dentist means being really uncomfortable.
My first experience at the dentist was at the hospital. To be treated, I had to get out of my wheelchair and into the dental chair. I can’t transfer myself, so they had to pick me up and put me there. Sitting in the dental chair was not comfortable. My wheelchair is custom-made for me, as most are for people with disabilities, since we all sit differently. So, not only was I really uncomfortable in the dental chair, I also couldn’t sit the way dentist needed me to for the exam. Because of my short stature, even a pediatric chair was still a bit too big for me.
Later in life, I tried again to go to the dentist and found one that was willing to see me in my chair. They couldn’t transfer me to a regular dental chair, nor could I do so on my own, but I was so glad he was willing to treat me anyway. He was very understanding, attentive and patient. He even helped to recline my chair to put me in the position that he could work with.
But, while he was willing to do it in the chair, it was a very tight squeeze. He could only do it from one side of the chair, which made it difficult to really treat the other side of my mouth. Also, I can’t open my mouth very wide, so the little bit I can open makes it very painful when they try to place the plastic film for a dental X-ray in my mouth. Although he did the best he could, I didn’t feel like I really got the proper cleaning or treatment. I won’t go again to see a dentist unless I can find someone who is either willing to come to me in my home, or where I can be in an environment that’s easy and comfortable for me.
If it was more affordable and more accessible, I and many others in the disability community would definitely go to the dentist more often. We often tend to take a lot of medication that builds up plaque and can cause other issues, so of course it would be great to be able to see the dentist on a regular basis to ensure all these things are taken care of. I hope Project Accessible Oral Health can draw attention to what can be done to help make this a reality.