Dentistry and the Wheelchair-Bound Patient

Nov. 13, 2009
Access to dental treatment for the wheelchair-bound patient is an ongoing dilemma.

Providers of dental treatment remain reluctant due to ergonomic issues involved in treating the wheelchair-bound. Wheelchair patients are often frightened at the thought of transfer into a dental chair. Providers and caregivers are unable or unwilling to accept the liability that comes with transfer, as injuries occur frequently during this dangerous procedure.

Wheelchair tilts solve the daunting task of treating the wheelchair-bound patient in dentistry. A wheelchair tilt permits the patient to remain seated. The tilt reclines both patient and wheelchair, thereby eliminating possible transfer injury. Hand-held controls afford the patient or provider the ability to adjust the degree of tilt during treatment. A range of reclining angles elicits relief from pressure points associated with pressure ulcers and pain during wheelchair confinement.

These patients sometimes become very uncomfortable when seated for a dental appointment. The need to adjust to a different angle due to pain interrupts the dental procedure. Working under time constraints may cause huge issues for providers and patients. The frustrations for both are the source for treatment catastrophes. As cements harden, as saliva contaminates a dry field and as anesthesia wears off, stopping for patient adjustment can create havoc. A wheelchair tilt provides safe and immediate angle adjustment often imparting relief through the touch of a button. Procedures then proceed with minimal interruption.

When the wheelchair-bound patient is transferred from the wheelchair into a traditional dental chair, they are often unable to maintain a stable position. A gradual slipping down the dental chair begins, due to the lack of muscle control, creating a precarious and distressing situation. This scenario can be eliminated using a wheelchair tilt, making dental treatment a successful experience for both patients and providers.

Patients feel vulnerable when removed from the wheelchair. Dignity and security are maintained for wheelchair-bound patients when they remain in the wheelchair during treatment. Transferring patients is not only perilous and frightening but may be perceived as demeaning for the patient who is wheelchair dependent. Imagine that the wheelchair-bound patient arrives for treatment and never again suffers through the arduous transfer process from wheelchair to dental chair!

Confident and ergonomically sound dental treatment for wheelchair patients can be accomplished. As dental providers we must move toward treatment of this overlooked population. Wheelchair-bound patients will more readily accept dental treatment when offered a safe and caring method of receiving that treatment. Providers and wheelchair-bound patients regain self-assurance when transfer issues are eliminated through the use of wheelchair tilts.

Rebecca Claunch, Registered Dental Hygienist, graduated from University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Dentistry, Division of Dental Hygiene in 1982. Ms. Claunch continues her education through UMKC School of Dentistry, Division of Dental Hygiene, completing her Bachelor of Science degree with plans to pursue a Masters Degree. She is an advocate for distance education and degree completion.