October is Health Literacy Month, an optimal time to recognize the importance of health awareness and literacy, including oral health. Having access to and understanding health information is essential to caring for your whole-body health. Having good health literacy can even improve health outcomes, including fewer visits to the emergency room, fewer hospitalizations, and better preventive care for you and your children.

Health literacy is also critical to advancing health equity. To ensure everyone has access to health information they need, steps must be taken to ensure materials are inclusive and accessible to different populations – including those with special health care needs (SHCN). SHCN can include behavioral, congenital, developmental or cognitive disorders, and systemic diseases. Individuals with SHCN are at a greater risk for experiencing many oral health conditions, including gingivitis, periodontal disease, and cavities.

In order to ensure good health literacy is achieved and individuals with SHCN can care for their oral health, consider these tips:

  • Offer materials and instructions in different formats to accommodate differing levels of accessibility such as large print, braille, and electronic formats.
  • Visual aids can be helpful as reminders for special needs patients. Simple instructions that include images for your patient to post on the bathroom mirror can help create a successful oral hygiene routine.
  • Caregivers are often the ones providing oral hygiene care, so don’t forget to encourage and educate them about routines and oral health needs as well as the patient.
  • Use this Caregiver’s Guide to Good Oral Health to find ways to adapt oral health routines for individuals with special health care needs.

When people can access and understand the health information they need, they can act on it and take control of their own health and oral health. Health literacy principles make information clearer and health equity principles make it more inclusive. Join KOHC this month is recognizing the importance of inclusive health literacy and empowering individuals to care for their health.