How my dentist handles my speech, breathing, and swallowing issues

Healthcare providers are increasingly able to accommodate my ALS needs

Dagmar Munn avatar

by Dagmar Munn |

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Last week, I sat in the dentist’s chair filled with gratitude. I know. It’s bonkers. But I couldn’t help myself. I’m grateful knowing that if I have to live with ALS, it’s happening at a time when advances in technology and accommodations help me deal with its many challenges.

Not only am I living with a new normal, but many healthcare providers also have a new normal — one that I’m happily discovering helps them accommodate all kinds of patients’ needs.

Before I had ALS, I always followed the recommended guidelines for annual exams, participated in my employer’s work-site wellness screens, and made sure my immunizations were up to date.

But the combination of my ALS and my age have whittled down my list of exams and screenings into something much shorter. Plus, I need accommodations.

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Pardon my neediness

Now, I have to arrive places either pushing a walker and wearing ankle-foot orthoses or needing extra turnaround room if I’m riding my mobility scooter. I used to be nervous that no one would understand my answers to important questions, as I have speech issues. And at the dentist, I’d worry that being unable to lean back in the chair because of breathing issues and being unable to tolerate water in my mouth due to swallowing issues would impede the care I received.

During the past few years, however, I’ve learned that modern healthcare providers can accommodate just about everything.

My dentist tilts me back, but a nifty neck pillow keeps my throat upright. A stretchy plastic “shield” (called a dry shield) protects my throat from water, and I hold the suction tube so I can chase stray water droplets during the entire procedure. Instead of requiring multiple follow-up visits to replace a cracked crown, the procedure is completed in a single three-hour appointment. The new crown is created on-site via a 3D camera and a special milling machine.

Every fall, I ride my mobility scooter right into my local pharmacy and get my flu and COVID-19 vaccines. I don’t even have to get off my scooter — the pharmacist comes to me. I even scooter in to see my dermatologist. Once in the exam room, I pivot the scooter’s seat, and it’s as if I’m seated in the exam room’s chair.

It’s a win-win

I’ll admit that living with ALS and coping with all its associated health needs can be challenging, especially when wrestling with decisions comparing the financial investment with our limited prognosis. But thanks to advances in technology, treatment, and symptom management, many ALS patients are experiencing a higher quality of life over the course of their disease than in the past.

I believe that my commitment to maintaining my regular health screenings has contributed to my current good health, along with pausing to recognize and be grateful for the healthcare providers who’ve taken the extra step to accommodate my needs.

If you’re worried whether your local healthcare provider can accommodate your particular needs, just call ahead and discuss it with them. You just might be surprised to hear, “No problem. We can do that.”

Make taking care of your health beyond dealing with ALS symptoms a priority. It’s all part of learning to live well with ALS.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


Sonia Hurtado avatar

Sonia Hurtado

Thank you for your comments. I am goin to try to contact my pharmacist. I just went to Colombia and i arrive with a thooth problem
went to see a family Dentist and it was very positive experience.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

It's good to know you had a positive experience with your dentist. Thank you for sharing that, it will help others in the same situation. Dagmar

Alan Larrivee avatar

Alan Larrivee

Was going to have a dental procedure and asked my neurologist about the meds the dentist said he was going to use. She wrote such a detailed letter about my health the dentist told me he would not do it.. I haven’t heard back from that dentist again. Not even for a cleaning. Got a new neurologist and a new dentist.

Dagmar Munn avatar

Dagmar Munn

Bravo to you Alan, for advocating for your own health. I hope your new neurologist and dentist are serving well. Dagmar

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