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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.


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!