Adults with learning disabilities in employment had poor periodontal health but acceptable oral hygiene status


Studies have suggested that people with learning disabilities have poorer oral health than those in the general population, and often have untreated caries and high prevalence of gingivitis and other periodontal diseases.

The researchers in this study were interested in the oral health status and behaviour of people with learning disabilities who were employed as there are few studies that have looked exclusively at this group.

They worked with 64 men who were living in community settings (mean age 34 years). The team examined them to assess dental caries, oral hygiene and periodontal status. In order to understand more about the background of the men, they also collected socio-demographic, behavioural and general health data by carrying out interviews with the men and their parents.

They found that most of the workers had mild or moderate learning disabilities. They also found that the younger men, or those from higher socioeconomic groups, had significantly lower dental caries.

Concerning periodontal health, 1.6% of the men had healthy periodontium (tissues that surround and support the  teeth); 38.1% had bleeding on probing, 44.4% calculus or tartar, 12.7% shallow pockets (where tooth and gum meet) and 3.2% deep pockets. 64.5% had good oral hygiene status.

Information from parental interviews suggested that only 32.1% had had professional fluoride treatment. Nearly half also said they believed general dentists to be reluctant to provide care for people with learning disabilities.

In relation to diet, 50% reported daily consumption of foods with high sugar content and 27.3% liquids with high sugar content

The authors conclude that employed adults with learning disabilities had poor periodontal health and a low level of restorative care, but their findings suggested that had an acceptable oral hygiene status.

The oral health status and behaviour among non-institutionalised employed adults with intellectual disabilities, Margaritis V et al., in Journal of Disability and Oral Health, 13, 1, 11-18

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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