A dental clinic for people with mental and physical disabilities opened inside a health care center in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, in April. It aims to serve patients who find it difficult to visit regular dentists.
The clinic will be open once a week. It is still establishing itself, but patients who had nowhere to go have welcomed it as they have been waiting for such a service for a long time.
The clinic has three treatment chairs and can see up to 18 patients a day. It received 13 in April.
One recent visitor was a 33-year-old man with severe autism. His 61-year-old mother took him to have two teeth removed.
His mother and a dental hygienist led him to the treatment chair and helped him strap on a safety belt.
The patient inhaled laughing gas and relaxed.
“Let’s take a commemorative picture,” the hygienist said as a dentist X-rays the patient’s teeth.
The dentist deftly extracted two back teeth while the rest kept up the bright chatter.
“I’ve been waiting for April to come,” said the patient’s mother.
Even with assistance, her son was unable to brush and rinse his teeth properly, so his cavities worsened. But there was no one to take him to the university hospital in Nagoya because the woman’s husband had passed away.
Patients with developmental disorders and mental disabilities need extra care based on their conditions. Some are afraid of being treated and need time to adjust to the facility’s atmosphere.
Some clinics are willing to overcome these hurdles, but the treatment takes time and there are only three or four clinics in Toyohashi that handle such specialized cases.
“It’s like receiving aid from heaven,” said a family member of one patient who had to change dentists numerous times.
The new clinic also accepts visitors from Tahara, Aichi Prefecture, and Hamamatsu in the neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture, where no specialized oral care is available.
The clinic is headed by 49-year-old Atsushi Mori, who is certified by the Japanese Society for Disability and Oral Health.
When he started as a dentist in Toyohashi 10 years ago, he wondered why there was no clinic offering service for people with disabilities in such a big city.
Members of the city’s dental association would visit social welfare institutions and provide oral care to the residents. There was an opportunity to offer treatment once a year, but only simple cavities were treated. Many patients’ teeth were in terrible condition.
When the children development center, which provides treatment and education for children, was established in the city in 2010, the city dental association requested that a oral treatment center for children with disabilities be set up.
The number of patients grew from 304 in 2010 to 803 in 2015.
However, when the patients hit 18 they are no longer eligible for treatment at the center, so a new clinic for adults with disabilities was finally opened.
The clinic is open on Thursdays when most of the other clinics in the city are closed, with 12 doctors from around the area working in rotation.
Dentists who are not certified to work with people with disabilities are taking lessons offered by the dental association to obtain a certificate while acquiring actual experience.
“I hope the new clinic can help increase the number of clinics that can serve such people,” Mori said.
The prefecture’s dental association has also been working since 2007 to increase the number of dentists who can help treat people with disabilities by offering lectures.
“The most important thing is for the patients to be able to receive treatment in the area where they live,” said Toru Yamashita, 54, head of the federation of associations for people and children with disabilities in Toyohashi, who himself has a son with severe disabilities.
“I hope they can go to clinics in their neighborhood for follow-up care after they complete major treatment in the clinic,” he said, expressing hope that efforts to protect the teeth of people with disabilities will spread following the clinic’s initiative.
The dental clinic for people with disabilities in Toyohashi is managed by the city dental association with an annual budget of around ¥40 million.
It is the third such a clinic in the Higashi Mikawa district. The others are in the cities of Toyokawa and Gamagori.
There are 12 treatment facilities for people with disabilities within the prefecture run in cooperation with the Aichi Prefecture Dental Association.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on May 23.