Clinic cleans teeth for disabled patients
“Once the treatment is over, we’ll go eat something good,” she said. “So please, open your mouth.”
It’s a common enough scene at the clinic, which is the first and only in Korea to specialize in dental care for the disabled. Since it opened on Aug. 16 last year, it has had to deal with a deluge of patients. Anywhere from 80 to 100 people call for an appointment a day.
Since December, the clinic has treated 786 patients and run through 2,043 examinations. The four dentists see four to eight patients a day, each taking as long as three hours.
Since September 2005, Kim Seong-hui has had to take a bus for two hours to come to the clinic from her home in Ilsan, Gyeonggi province. Despite the four-hour round trip, she is much better off than if she went to the nearest dental clinic ― few other clinics would even know how to handle dealing with a mentally disabled patient.
“[Seong-hui] had to have a general anesthesia when she went to a local dental clinic because the dentists and nurses there couldn’t control her,” he older sister said. “It was so much work that her teeth just wound up decaying, uncared for.”
The clinic is operated by the Seoul Dental Association and funded by the Seoul metropolitan government. The building, with three floors above ground and one basement floor, is wheelchair-accessible and has Braille lettering for every corridor. The walls are decorated with pictures drawn by children from special education schools.
The clinic also has treatment tables equipped with restraining belts and extra space for patients who use wheelchairs. Usually a dentist and two dental hygienists are assigned to each patient, although more medical workers can be assigned, if needed.
“Having to treat a disabled person makes me feel very tense,” said Lee Chung-bok, 60, the deputy director of the clinic. “Once, when a patient who weighed 110 kilograms (242 pounds) was putting up a fight, it took 17 staff members to hold him down and put a gag into his mouth.”
No detail is overlooked. Even the floors have been heated so that disabled persons who can’t sit up straight won’t be cold.
Though the clinic makes exceptions in emergencies, all patients must make an appointment well in advance (the clinic already has 759 appointments booked until June). Patients sometimes wait for as long as five months and come from as far away as Yeosu, on the southern coast of South Jeolla province.
Because the clinic runs on a budget from the city, Seoul residents can get a discount of 20 to 50 percent. Despite patients from elsewhere having to pay the full rate, the place is always crowded with out-of-towners, the clerk at the reception desk said.
“I think there should be at least one dental clinic [for disabled patients] in every province,” Mr. Lee said. “I hope there will be more clinics for the disabled in Seoul.”
There is certainly the demand for more. Seoul alone has a disabled population of 289,517 according to medical registration, and the country has 1.7 million.
For more information about the clinic, call (02) 2282-0001.
by Kwon Keun-young
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