Did you know July is Disability Pride Month?
Let’s talk about access at the dental chair & the bathroom sink
Last month, we raised a brush to the LGBTQIA+ community by highlighting the progress made toward medical equality and inclusive oral health care. Proud mouths have paved the way for other groups to advocate for their own rights — like the 1.3 billion people in the world living with a disability. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in the summer of 1990, officially designating July as Disability Pride Month. A huge win for the community, the law marked a new era — one in which the gap between able-bodied people and those with disabilities began to close, as it became illegal to discriminate against any person based on disability. Let’s learn a bit more about what professional and at-home oral care looks like for this population, and how dentistry is evolving to accommodate students, professionals, patients, and all mouths with specific needs!
Going to the dentist when you have a disability
While a dental visit for neurotypical and able-bodied people might be quick enough to squeeze in on a lunch break, it could easily require an entire day (plus some) for anyone experiencing a physical, psychological, or sensory disability. Aside from facility-specific requirements like wide hallways, ramps, and accessible parking, these patients often require emotional and social support before, during, and after a cleaning or oral procedure, as they experience heightened levels of medical anxiety and fear. The good news is that dental education is catching up (more on that later) and there are already lots of practicing dentists and hygienists happy and prepared to meet these needs.
At Chippewa Falls Dental Center, Karen Eslinger prepares for a routine clean with a patient that has Rett syndrome (a condition characterized by loss of coordination, speech, and use of the hands) by heating up a blanket for swaddling — it helps soothe her anxiety. Before her next patient gets in the dental chair, she’ll read a book out loud with her, as it calms down the panic attack she’ll likely experience upon arrival. Dr. Jacob Dent says that patience, creativity, and knowing your patients is key to a successful cleaning. Being resourceful comes in handy too, like foregoing the dental chair and working from the patient’s own when possible. He also provides a printed and personalized social story for all visitors, which helps by explaining each step of their visit through friendly illustrations. We can all empathize with that — isn’t knowing what to expect always reassuring?
Let’s take a look on the other side of the dental chair
We’ve now seen the perspective of a dental patient, but how do dentists who are disabled (or become so, at any point in their career) continue to work in the field? Due to injury, accident, or even aging, these professionals may suffer a loss of motor skills or neurological complications, rendering them unable to practice traditional dentistry. Thankfully, support exists for transitions like these. The American Association of Disabled Dentists is an organization that seeks to provide a community for professionals experiencing disabilities. Here, they find connections and resources, like a list of alternative careers — Dental Forensic Specialist?! That sounds pretty cool. Pivoting to education or even digital media also allows individuals to share their stories and experiences with others, helping to make the field more inclusive as well.
This level of social support and increased awareness is as important as ever, as more research shows that people with disabilities are at higher risk for oral disease than their able-bodied counterparts. As the conversation regarding modern dental care evolves, so do the capabilities and expectations of students, faculty, and staff at dental programs around the country. In 2019, the National Council on Disability required that all US dental schools “revamp their curricula and training programs to be inclusive of patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Two years later, The University of Pennsylvania celebrated another successful year at The Care Center for Persons with Disabilities, a patient clinic and training center for current medical students — last November, they’d already seen over 1,700 unique patients!
Why at-home cleaning matters just as much
As schools update their curriculum to train future dental pros, brands in the oral care game (like us!) take part in a different kind of education — one that happens at home, right over the bathroom sink. If you’ve been brushing with our Electric Toothbrush, or just keeping up with quip for a while, you know that we’re advocates for a consistent oral care routine at home. Whenever possible, brushing and flossing should be as non-negotiable as your pre-bed Instagram scroll (or cup of chamomile tea, if you’re trying to snooze like Sleepy Tooth). Now that we know people with disabilities are at a higher risk of oral health complications, and aren’t regularly able to see the dentist, it bears saying that at-home care is extra crucial. Many folks rely on a caretaker’s support to brush, floss, rinse, and clean up, while others with more independence may just need to find the right tools — that’s where quip comes in.
We’ve learned lots of lessons in oral care since our launch in 2015 (some of us still aren’t sure if we should floss before or after brushing, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post). Among all the valuable insights, some we hold near and dear are those shared directly with us by quipsters with disabilities. Thanks to real user feedback, we now know that in addition to physical limitations and discomfort, some of the serious hurdles faced by this community are lack of focus and motivation, sensory overload, exhaustion, and anxiety — and we’re so happy to hear that cleaning with quip has helped!
I'm disabled, and a lot of my struggles with oral hygiene are alleviated thanks to quip. I had been using a manual toothbrush for a while because my electric brush was just too overwhelming for my sensory processing disorder, but the level of vibration in a quip toothbrush is perfect. The 30-second pulses help my ADHD brain stay focused, even when I'm tired. I chose a "kids" toothbrush for its rubber-grip handle and small brush head, and it works great for my arthritic hands and small mouth.
The quip kid's brush has been an incredible relief to me. My son has always hated the brushing experience. It is a complete sensory overload. So, for four years it's been a twice-daily battle of will powers in order to keep his mouth healthy. The very instant he felt this toothbrush in action, he closed his eyes, sighed, and relaxed into the feeling. The stress and anxiety were wiped away like they were swept out by an ocean tide. Ever since, he has brushed his own teeth, no qualms, and looks forward to the event.
As an autistic person with Pathological Demand Avoidance, I've struggled my entire life to maintain the daily task of brushing my teeth. I've never flossed. I went ahead and invested in the Smart Brush, and I have to say, as silly as it sounds, having an app where I have an incentive to brush my teeth, and lose my streak if I miss a day, has had me brushing my teeth 2 times daily for over a month. Sometimes it's the little things that help our executive function work, quip has done that for me here.
My son is disabled and has tremors in his arm and hand. The weight of your toothbrush and the very low movement of the brush gives him the ability to brush his teeth independently!
Quality oral care is crucial for all bodies
As we wrap up Disability Pride Month, we’re feeling excited to design even more products and app experiences that are accessible (and fun) for as many mouths as possible! As always, let’s remember to acknowledge our own communities first, in which there are inevitably individuals struggling with their own visible or invisible disabilities — fellow students, coworkers, maybe even our own dentists.