A Conversation with Dr. Brian Armour About Oral Health of People with and Without Disabilities

Patient - teeth checkBrian Armour, PhD is an economist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He has spent over 15 years in health services research, including work on helping design the CDC Disability and Health Data (http://dhds.cdc.gov/). We asked Brian to discuss findings from the study he led, entitled “A Profile of State-level Differences in the Oral Health of People with and Without Disabilities, in the U.S., in 2004” (Armour BS, Swanson M, Waldman HB, Perlman SP. Public Health Rep. 2008 Jan-Feb;123(1):67-75).

Why did you want to study state-level differences in oral health of people with disabilities?
While there have been disability-specific studies about oral health, no state-level analysis of the oral health of people with disabilities was available. We wanted to assess the oral health of people with disabilities in each state.

Oral health is as important as other types of health care; and good oral health improves general health, self-esteem, communication, nutrition, and quality of life.

What did you discover?
In the year we observed, people with disabilities were less likely than people without disabilities to visit a dentist or dental clinic. They were more likely to have experienced tooth loss.

Our study showed very different results among states. People with disabilities from Mississippi were much less likely than people with disabilities in Connecticut to have visited the dentist or dental clinic in the last year. Only four percent of people with disabilities in the District of Columbia reported having tooth loss as opposed to almost 19 percent of people with disabilities in Kentucky.

What does this mean for people with disabilities and their families?
It is important for everyone, especially for people with disabilities, to practice good oral health habits, like brushing their teeth regularly and flossing. People who need help finding good oral health habits can visit the “Oral Health” section of the CDC website.

Sometimes, people with disabilities – particularly intellectual or developmental disabilities – need assistance from their families and caregivers to help them practice good oral health. If caregivers need tips on how to promote good oral heath, they can check out “Dental Care Every Day: A Caregiver’s Guide” from the National Institute on Health.