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For patients with disabilities, dental treatment presents extra challenges


Disability advocate Jean-Marie Lawrence was born with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, a category of rare, inherited neuromuscular diseases that cause progressive muscle weakness and wasting. As a result, she’s must use a wheelchair. Lawrence works full time at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, serves on the Council on Developmental Disability, and aside from an assistant who comes twice a day to help her get up and dressed, she lives alone. But accessing medical care, particularly dentistry, is a major challenge, because she needs assistance transferring out of her wheelchair. “Most of my doctors are at hospitals, because hospitals have lift teams,” she said. “I haven’t really explored getting my teeth cleaned in years — every dentist I’ve called won’t see you and clean your teeth and stuff if you can’t get in the chair.”

…Jim Hollingsworth, a fourth-year dental student at the University of Tennessee in Memphis who came to Chattanooga in January to complete a rotation at the clinic, said that was his first time treating patients with developmental disabilities. “It’s just something we don’t get exposure to at school. We’re told to usually refer these patients out,” he said. “It’s been good being here and seeing that this is a population that we could serve.”

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