Background. People with mental retardation have limited access to oral health care. Dental school administrators reported minimal training in U.S. dental schools for these patients. As a result, students and practitioners may not be prepared to provide needed services. Methods. The authors surveyed 295 third- and fourth-year students at five dental schools about their didactic and clinical preparation for, attitudes toward and comfort levels with treating people with mental retardation, as well as whether their experiences affect their willingness to treat people with mental retardation. The authors analyzed data using previously developed statistical software. Results. A little more than 68 percent of respondents reported receiving five hours or less of instruction devoted to how to care for people with mental retardation, and 50.8 percent reported having no clinical training : in this area. Nearly 60 percent reported that they had little to no confidence in providing care, while 74.6 percent reported they had little to no preparation in providing care. Students who had experience working with people with mental retardation attributed greater capabilities to such people than did students who had no such experience. Conclusions. Many U.S. dental students are prepared inadequately to provide services for people with mental retardation. Spending time with these patients provides a more positive understanding of the capabilities of these people. Practice Implications. Increasing numbers of people with mental retardation no longer live in institutions, and they are dependent on dentists in private practice for care. Increased dental school training and continuing education programs are needed to meet this need.
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