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.