Oral Health Care for Persons with Disabilities

An online continuing education course presented by the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.

To navigate through the course, use the menu on the left.


The numbers are dramatic; according to the CDC, approximately 61 million Americans live with a disability (a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities). Disabilities can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as; cerebral palsy, autism, deafness, blindness, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, to name a few. About 30 million Americans have a severe disability.

61 million Americans live with a disability.

Historically, many of these “special patients” received care in hospitals, infirmaries, nursing homes and state-operated institutions. Due to the substantial increase in the number of individuals now living with unique special needs as well as society’s desire to remove physical and psychological barriers and stimulate health care access, the trend is for these individuals to seek care from traditional mainstream community-based health care providers.

Most of us who have had a private practice have treated elderly patients, people with disabilities, patients with cardiovascular problems, or a patient undergoing cancer therapy. As health care improves and many of the once acute and fatal conditions become chronic and manageable problems, these patients will continue to grow in number and seek care from private practitioners. Therefore, dentists and other oral health care professionals have an increasing responsibility to identify patients with systemic diseases, compromising conditions, and disabilities that have an impact on , and can be impacted by, oral health treatment. That is, more patients will require accommodation of their disabling conditions and need oral health care that is optimally coordinated with their systemic conditions.

These changes require oral health professionals to become competent in providing care to patients with disabling conditions.

This course is intended as an introduction to providing dental care to people who have disabling conditions..

Educational Goals

Providing dental care to individuals with disabilities may require increased awareness, attention and accommodation by the dentist and dental staff, such as; frequent consultation with other health care providers, communicating with patients who have a sensory impairment, transfer of patient from wheelchair to dental chair, behavior management, obtaining appropriate informed consent, proper airway positioning, and modifications to routine treatment procedures.

The primary objective of this course is to provide dental professionals with an understanding of the issues associated with providing oral health care to people who have disabilities.  Specifically we intend to:

  • describe the changing demographic and social status of people with disabilities.
  • identify barriers to accessing dental care experienced by this segment of the population.
  • discuss oral health considerations associated with major disabling conditions.
  • present practical clinical information that will assist general dentists in providing appropriate dental care in a safe manner to individuals who have a disability.

It is not the intent of this course to suggest the general practitioner must provide treatment to “very resistant” dental patients with “multiple and/or profound disabilities”.  These patients are more appropriately treated in other settings by practitioners with special training.  However, the general practitioner should be able to provide appropriate referral for such individuals.