ADA shares ideas with Congress on improving dental access for patients with disabilities

The ADA supports equal access to dental care for all patients and has several ideas on how Congress can ensure greater health outcomes for people with disabilities by providing accommodations in health care settings and further developing a health care workforce that understands the needs of people with disabilities.

In a Sept. 23 request for information on "Disability Policies in the 21st Century: Building Opportunities for Work and Inclusion," ADA President Cesar R. Sabates, D.D.S., and Executive Director Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S., shared the ADA's thoughts on how Congress can help the ADA and dentists meet these goals:

Regarding funding for physical and sensory accommodations, Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia said many dental practices are small businesses and may struggle to pay for the equipment and renovations necessary to see patients with disabilities. They noted that grant funding is needed to help dental offices purchase equipment or to build, renovate, and expand in order to see patients with disabilities.

Some examples of accommodations include sensory rooms, quiet dimmable lights, wider doorways, and wheelchair and Hoyer lifts - allof which may cost several thousands of dollars. The comments also said funding is needed for mobile dental vans that are specially designed and equipped to treat patients with disabilities who reside in rural and underserved areas, or who live in community-based settings.

Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia said the ADA is asking Congress to expand Section 741 of the Public Health Service Act to include more funding for dentists to make these accommodations and to increase the Disabled Access Credit that dental offices and other small businesses can use to make accommodations for people with disabilities. The credit currently has a maximum expenditure of $10,250.

The ADA also urged Congress to provide grants for the training and continuing education of dentists on treating patients with disabilities to dental schools, dental residency and fellowship programs, and dental associations like the ADA, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and Special Care Dentistry Association.

The ADA shared results from the 2021 ADA Council on Dental Education and Licensure survey on the State of Special Needs Dentistry Education. This survey recognized that the accreditation standards for dental education programs was strengthened in 2019 by the Commission on Dental Accreditation to say, "graduates must be competent in assessing and managing the treatment of patients with special needs." The ADA asked Congress to provide funding to dental schools so they could expand their curriculum and clinical experiences to meet this standard.

The survey also found that the ADA continuing education on special needs could be strengthened and increased through annual meeting courses, video-based on demand courses, and/or multi-module online courses but said funding is needed to develop and enhance these courses.

The request for information response also said that Congress should provide grants to help pay for the technology needed for telehealth and remote patient monitoring such as intraoral cameras and special toothbrushes.

"Educating and assisting patients with disabilities with their daily dental hygiene is critical to good oral health," Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia said. "Telehealth and remote patient monitoring could be used to support these goals. For example, dental hygienists could be trained through Congressional grant programs to provide care in the patient's home or residential facility, with the care overseen by a dentist through telehealth."

Additionally, the ADA urges Congress to support the use of community dental health coordinators, or CDHCs, to help educate patients with disabilities on their daily oral health.

"Training CDHCs on this care would cost approximately $10,000, and we urge Congress to provide grants to CDHC programs to develop and implement these training programs. Congress should expand Section 747A of the Public Health Service Act to include grants for CDHC training," Drs. Sabates and Cohlmia wrote.

Read the comments in full at Follow all the ADA's advocacy efforts at

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