Balancing the requirements of a special needs child can be very challenging for parents. Pressing medical issues often take focus and dental care can take a back seat. The problem is that, according to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, those children are almost twice as likely to unmet dental problems compared to children without special needs. If you are the parent of a special needs child, it's important that you pay particular attention to his dental health care. Below are some tips on how to approach it.
Common Special Needs Conditions
The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry defines special needs children as those with chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions. They usually have limitations on daily activities, and require more extensive dental and medical services. Cleft lip or palate, Down syndrome, neurological disorders, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing impairments are common medical conditions requiring special dental care, as well as learning and developmental disabilities.
Down syndrome and other genetic disorders can cause delays in tooth eruption, sometimes up to two years according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. These children may also have malformed or extra teeth erupt, or congenitally missing teeth. And crowding and poor alignment in general can leave children prone to gum disease and tooth decay because their teeth are difficult to keep clean. In cases of severe intellectual disability or cerebral palsy, children may habitually grind their teeth, making them flat as they gradually break down the enamel.
Tooth decay and gum disease can also be a result of a child's impaired immune systems and connective tissue disorders. Many of the medications they're eligible for contain sugar or cause dry mouth, which is especially conducive to tooth decay. Certain medications can also cause an overgrowth of the gum tissue, so be sure to ask your doctor about side effects.
Home Care and Nutrition
Start your infant's home care routine as soon as you come home from the hospital by wiping his or her gums with a wet gauze pad. Once teeth have erupted, brush his teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush, and floss daily. Ask your dentist when to start using fluoride toothpaste and how much to use. If your child can't rinse or gags easily, you can brush with a fluoride rinse such as Colgate® Phos-Flur®, which can improve your child's defenses against tooth decay. Only do this with older children.
Serving nutritious meals and restricting sugary or starchy foods can help baby teeth develop properly and limit exposure to the decay that causes acid attacks. Keep healthy snacks in the house, and save special sweet treats for during meal time. Brush your child's teeth after eating or have him drink or rinse with water to neutralize the acids from those sugary foods.
Finding a Dentist
Dentists recommend children have their first dental visit before the age of one, and this is especially important for special needs children. Many general and pediatric dentists are equipped to treat children with physical or behavioral disabilities. If you're not sure which dentists in your area are up to the job, call your local dental society or contact the Special Care Dentistry Association for suggestions. During these first visits, the dentist can evaluate your child's dental development and help you create the most appropriate home care routine for your family.
There is ample opportunity for children with special needs to get good dental health care. By working closely with your child's dentist to put a prevention plan in place, many potential dental problems can be avoided entirely.