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Dental Care and Treatments for Special Needs Children

August 1, 2019

With myriad medical needs and behaviors to manage, parents of special needs children may put their oral health on the back burner.

While this is certainly understandable, children with disabilities or complex medical conditions are twice as likely to have unmet dental needs than children without special needs. There are many reasons for this. Fine motor delays can prevent some children from performing adequate oral care. Sensory issues can make the simple act of brushing a challenge for other kids. Medical conditions make some kids more susceptible to dental problems. Additionally, visiting a pediatric dental specialist for routine care may be next to impossible for some.

However, it’s vital that parents make oral health visits to a pediatric dentist a priority for their children. Here are some tips to help you set up your child up for a lifetime of good dental health.

Start Early

Find a dentist for children early on. The sooner your child starts going to the dentist on a regular basis, the easier it will be to establish a routine. Find a pediatric dentist that allows your child to take a tour of the office. Bring your child to the office for a walk through, and let him or her examine the spinning toothbrushes and take a ride in the dental chair. Gaining familiarity with the office helps to lessen anxiety for both the child and the parent.

Talk To Your Dentist

You’re the expert on your child’s unique needs, so take time to explain things to your dentist. Dental professionals will be glad to meet with you in advance of your child’s appointment to discuss the best path forward for your child. For instance, according to the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, patients with autism do well when they see the same staff and the same dentist at every appointment. Therefore, build that expectation into your child’s dental treatment plan. By maintaining open lines of communication and clear expectations between parent and dentist, the outcome for your child will be significantly improved.

Ask For Advice

As a pediatric dentistry office in Palm Harbor, Dr. Maggie Davis, and her staff can offer much more than routine cleaning and exam. They can talk to you about your child’s needs. Where does he or she need help? Is he or she struggling in one particular area of oral hygiene? We can point you to tools and products that could help. From floss holders to specialized fluoride rinses, we’re experts in adaptive dental aids for special needs kids.

At Home Care

Good oral care starts at home. If your child won’t let you brush their teeth, start by brushing his or her lips. Work your way up to brushing inside your child’s mouth. If he or she is resistant to a toothbrush, use a soft washcloth to gently wipe away dirt and food particles. Try a water flosser to clean between your child’s teeth if he or she won’t use dental floss. Limit snacks and sugary drinks to prevent decay and damage to the teeth and gums. Encourage your child to drink lots of water to rinse food particles from his or her mouth.

Patience With Your Special Needs Child

Just because your child is resistant to oral care, don’t lose hope! Keep trying, and take baby steps on the path to establishing a good oral routine. Don’t get frustrated and recognize the process may take time. We have tons of excellent resources for improving your child’s oral hygiene, so be sure to ask for help if you need it.

At Dr. Maggie Smith’s pediatric dentistry office, we are accustomed to serving special needs kids and welcome them at our practice. We look forward to talking with you about your child’s unique needs and helping you establish a positive relationship with our dentist. Contact us today to schedule a consultation!

Dental Care for Special Needs Children

March 13, 2019

Children who have special needs often have unique oral health issues. Symptoms of their condition, oral sensitivity, taking certain medications, diet, and difficulty eating can all contribute to dental concerns. Behavioral or medical problems may result in dental care taking a back seat at times. However, children with special needs have a greater risk for oral health problems, so it’s not only essential to ensure you’re practicing good dental hygiene at home with your child, but your child also needs to get routine dental care from a dentist.   


Dental Concerns for Children with Special Needs

Many children with special needs have dental problems related to their health condition or the treatments for their condition.

For example, your child’s condition could be affecting:

  • The amount of saliva your child’s mouth makes (Saliva protects teeth and clears away food)
  • How oral structures and teeth grow
  • The way calcium is laid down on the enamel of the teeth as they grow
  • What and how often your child can eat (note: children with G-tubes still are at risk for tartar buildup and cavities)

Some of the most common dental concerns affecting children with special needs include:

  • Teeth grinding – Your child could be grinding his teeth during the teeth or while sleeping, and grinding may damage teeth over time.
  • Holding food in their mouth – Some children hold food in their cheeks or their mouth, a condition known as food pouching. This can make it easier for bacteria to grow and cause cavities.
  • Dry mouth – Medications or your child’s condition could affect saliva production and cause dry mouth. This can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and oral infections.
  • Delay of tooth eruption – Sometimes the teeth take a longer time to come in for children with special needs. This is often seen in children who have Down syndrome.
  • Bad breath – Sinusitis, diabetes, some medications, and digestive problems may all lead to bad breath.


Choosing a Dentist Who Offers Special Supports for Special Needs Children

It’s critical that you follow good oral health practices at home with your child, but it’s also essential to make sure your child gets into the dentist for routine checkups and cleanings. Of course, this can come with unique challenges, so you’ll want to find a dentist who offers special supports to accommodate children with special needs. Finding the right dentist for your child requires balancing the dentist’s experience with your child’s needs. Take time to visit or call a dentist to find out if they have worked with other children who have your child’s condition. Talk to the practice about the special supports needed by your child. Some of the special supports to look for include:

  • Accessibility – Find out if the areas both outside and inside the dentist’s office are easily accessible for your special needs child. Does your child use a wheelchair? You’ll need to ensure that there’s a wheelchair ramp to enter the practice and that the wheelchair will easily fit into the exam room.  
  • Pre-Appointments – Ask about pre-appointments. They allow your child to meet with the dentist, visit the exam room, and see the dental equipment. Pre-appointments can help your child feel a lot more comfortable with the office, resulting in better cooperation during the appointment.
  • Previous Experience – Does the dental staff have experience working with children with special needs? Ask about previous experience and strategies they’ve developed to help support special needs children. Experienced dentists will be able to provide you with helpful home care advice that enables you to improve your child’s overall oral health.
  • Available Sedation – Is sedation available? Some children may require mild sedation while others might need general anesthesia. Talk to the dentist to find out what options are available and the sedation options he or she would recommend for your child’s needs.
  • Special Training – Does the dentist have any specialized training for treating children who have special needs? Many pediatric dentists do have specialized training, and that’s a benefit for you and your child.


Good dental care is crucial for your child’s overall health and wellbeing. Look for a dentist who can work with you and your child to achieve good oral health. Together you can work with your child’s dentist to prevent potential problems and keep your child’s teeth and gums as healthy as possible so they can live their best life.


Maintaining the Oral Health of Your Special Needs Child

November 15, 2018

Children with special needs often have unique oral health issues that are a result of their health condition, oral sensitivity, diet, or difficulty eating. Certain developmental disabilities may also affect the skills needed for completing everyday tasks, such as routine dental hygiene. Children who have special needs often have a higher risk for dental problems as well, so learning how to maintain the oral health of your child despite the challenges is essential to their overall wellness and quality of life.

Common Dental Concerns and Challenges

If you have a child with special needs, their condition may affect saliva production, how oral structure and teeth grow, what your child is easy to eat, and more. Some of the most common dental concerns and challenges in children who have special needs include:

  • Bruxism – Your child may grind their teeth during the day or while sleeping, and over time this can damage teeth.
  • Dry Mouth – Medications or your child’s condition may lead to dry mouth. It can also affect their nutrition and result in dental problems like gum disease, mouth infections, and tooth decay.
  • GERD – This can cause your child’s mouth to be more acidic, wearing down their teeth.
  • Bad Breath – Diabetes, digestive problems, some medications, and chronic sinusitis may result in bad breath.
  • Holding Food in the Mouth – Some children may hold food in their cheeks or mouth, an issue known as food pouching. This can result in the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.
  • Medications Affect Gums and Teeth – Certain medications may contain sugar, increasing the risk of cavities. Other medications may affect saliva production while certain seizure medications may result in enlarged gums.
  • Delay in Tooth Eruption – Your child’s teeth may take extra time to erupt, something that’s very common in children who have Down syndrome.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Mouth

Since children with special needs have a higher risk for oral health problems like gum infections, bite problems, enamel irregularities, and cavities, it’s so important to work on maintaining a healthy mouth. Here’s a closer look at a few tips that can make caring for your child’s oral health a bit easier.

Tip #1 – Assist Your Child in Brushing Twice Daily

Brushing daily is one of the most essential tasks for a healthy mouth. If your child needs help or some adaptations, here are some tips that can help.

If your child needs help brushing:

  • Be sure you’re able to see each tooth
  • Use a small amount of toothpaste on a soft bristled brush. For children who are bothered by the toothpaste or those with difficulty swallowing, you can brush with fluoride mouthwash instead.
  • Help your child rinse with some water after you brush. If they can’t, give them a drink of water.

If your child can brush on his own but needs a bit of help, here are some creative options:

  • Add a strap to the toothbrush to make it easier to hold if your child uses a strap to hold other items.
  • You can make the handle of the toothbrush bigger by using foam tubing or a bicycle grip to the handle. Another option is to cut a slit in a tennis ball, sliding it onto the toothbrush handle for easier grasping.
  • Other toothbrush options, such as a water pic or electric toothbrush, may make brushing easier for your child. 

Tip #2 – Get Professional Help with Sensitivity and Tolerance Issues

Many children with special needs have increased mouth sensitivity and may not tolerate brushing and flossing well. It’s often difficult to address this on your own, so take the time to get professional help for your child with these issues. Professional therapy may help your child overcome these problems so brushing, flossing, and dental care become easier.

Tip #3 – Don’t Forget Routine Dental Visits

Regular dental checkups and cleanings can ensure any potential problems are found before they cause your child discomfort and pain. It may take a little time to help your child feel comfortable at the dentist. Consider scheduling a visit to the office with no treatment. Let your child see the office, sit in the dental chair, meet the dentist, and get some oral hygiene tips.

It’s also a good idea to work with a dentist’s office that has experience with children with special needs so they’re prepared to help your child relax throughout dental checkups and treatment. Be sure to talk with the dentist and office staff about any concerns you have before treatment so you can all work together as a team to maintain your child’s oral health.


The Importance of Pediatric Dentistry for Special Needs Children

March 5, 2018

Every child needs routine dental care, but children with special needs have a higher risk of gum disease, oral trauma, and tooth decay. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, special health care needs includes any type of emotional, sensory, physical, behavioral, mental, cognitive, or developmental limiting condition or impairment that requires specialized services, medical management, and/or healthcare intervention. Whether your child has a condition that is developmental, congenital, or a result of a disease, great dental care is crucial to your child’s overall health.

Oral Health Challenges for Children with Special Needs

Many children who have special needs have a lot of sensitivity around their oral cavity. Working with a great pediatric dentist can often help parents get through oral structure changes and feeding problems, preparing parents and children for the developmental changes coming in the future. Other children with special needs often have a tough time opening their mouth completely due to problems with jaw development. This may make it difficult for them to floss and brush regularly, making them more likely to develop gum disease and cavities. Children who deal with sensory challenges are often averse to the sensation and texture of a toothbrush and toothpaste in their mouth. Others have a very limited diet that’s high in sugars, which may result in cavities and other problems with oral development.

Because of these challenges, it’s so important for parents to find a pediatric dentist that is skilled in working with children with special needs. A great pediatric dentist will become a therapeutic partner, so finding a dentist that listens and offers helpful resources is important to the long-term health of children with special needs challenges. Luckily for parents in Palm Harbor, Dr. Maggie Davis is experienced in working with children with special needs and can’t wait to meet your lovely child. 

Helping Special Needs Children Acclimate to the Dentist

Any child may have a difficult time acclimating to the dentist at first, and this can be even more of a problem for special needs children. Working with a pediatric dentist enables your family to create a program that caters to your child’s specific emotional, mental, and physical needs to acclimate them to the experience of visiting the dental office.

In many cases, it’s helpful to start out with a special playtime visit for your children so they can come in to the office and get used to the atmosphere. Our office offers a playroom with toys, magazines, and books and is very helpful for children to become comfortable in the office setting. Kids and their families can stay and play and parents are welcome to try these playtime visits multiple times to work on getting kids comfortable.

Next, an actual room visit may be a great step. Kids can start playing and then transition into one of the office rooms. Consider asking Dr. Maggie’s office staff if it is OK to bring a special toy to make this transition a smooth one. You, your child, and your dentist can talk about oral health and how to take care of their teeth.

The next step may be to have your child come in again and experience sitting in one of the dental chairs. Dental assistants can explain different instruments in the room. If children are okay with it, then the visit can go on to have a short exam and a cleaning. However, a great pediatric dentist works to follow the child’s cues. If the appointment becomes more than your child can handle, we can stop and another visit can be scheduled.

Sedation Dentistry is an Option

For children with special needs that have sensory challenges or high anxiety, sedation dentistry, or sleep dentistry, can be an excellent option. It can offer the best experience for you and your child, ensuring that your child receives the dental care needed for optimal well-being and overall health. Talk to your pediatric dentist about sedation dentistry and whether it’s a good fit for your child.

Although visiting the dentist can come with special challenges, routine dental care is so essential for children with special needs. Your child has a higher risk of many oral health problems if he has special needs, and a pediatric dentist can work with you and your child to prevent these problems before they happen. We love seeing all children grow up with healthy smiles if you have questions or concerns about your child’s needs and the dental care they receive, call and talk to Dr. Maggie today!