Demand exceeds supply
Because of the specialized training required, demand for the specialists exceeds the supply. A 2021 survey by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities’ Task Force on Special Dentistry found that no region of New York state has the capacity to treat people with severe to profound intellectual disabilities, many of whom require care in hospital settings.
That ultimately creates long waiting lists and forces people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to wait years for a simple appointment. Some travel hours for an appointment that should be routine.
That is why we have called on the state to support an initiative to train dental students to provide care to patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. One of us, state Sen. John Mannion, recently proposed allocating $750,000 for dental fellowships to kick off the effort. The fellowship, successfully piloted last year by the New York State Academic Dental Centers, would create a pipeline of young dentists prepared to meet the disabled community’s needs.
According to a 2012 study by the University of Rochester focused on New York Special Olympics athletes, nearly 30% of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities need urgent dental care or have untreated tooth decay.
When those health needs are delayed because of a lack of trained professionals, they lead to the catastrophe we have now. For too long, the disparity in treatment has been ignored, or consolidated to an individual level and separated from policy initiatives.