Unheard Voices: Shedding Light on the Overlooked Dental Care Challenges of I/DD Populations

Vanessa Rastovic' is a universal inclusion advocate and is the Policy Manager, Disability Healthcare Initiative for The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh / Achieva in Pittsburgh, PA.

One of the authors: Vanessa Rastovic, JD; Policy Manager, Disability Healthcare Initiative, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh

Navigating the intricate landscape of oral health care for individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) reveals a narrative that is rich with the formidable challenges faced by this community—enduring protracted wait times, meeting discrimination, confronting restricted access, and contending with an unsettling reliance on sedation. The National Council on Disability (NCD) has starkly declared that achieving optimal health for the disabled population remains an elusive pursuit within a health system that has persistently failed to foster inclusivity over decades. (ref 1-2) Understandably, individuals living with disabilities may perceive the U.S. healthcare system as a potential source of harm.

In the silent corridors of healthcare access, individuals with IDD often find themselves trapped in a cycle of overlooked oral health struggles. As we delve into the complexities of this issue, it becomes increasingly clear that the barriers to dental care access for IDD populations are not isolated but deeply intertwined with broader systemic challenges. Many individuals with IDD are situated within or near poverty due to systemic barriers, amplifying the hurdles they face in accessing both oral and medical health care. This interconnected web of social determinants of health underscores the urgent need for a closer examination of how we can lift ignored voices and provide fair access to essential oral health services for this vulnerable population.

We thoroughly explore the complexities of challenges within the intricate structures of oral health systems, looking to unravel exploitative aspects and daring to question established norms. Drawing upon existing research findings and merging with innovative recommendations, our aim crystallizes—to present a narrative that goes beyond the existing norms aiming to bring about a time marked by fairness, inclusiveness, and much better oral health care for those too often overlooked and pushed to the peripheries of care. (ref 1-2)

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Sean G. Boynes, DMD, MS; President, GameShift Healthcare Solutions; Board of Directors, Harmony Health Foundation
Tina Saw, DDS; Founder and CEO, Oral Genome
Jeremy Norden-Paul, MEd; Director, Division of Program Innovation, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Vanessa Rastovic, JD; Policy Manager, Disability Healthcare Initiative, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh