smiling kid outside

Dental Health Care For Children With Special Needs

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Balancing the requirements of a child with special needs can be very challenging for parents. Pressing medical issues often take focus, and dental care can take a back seat. The problem is that children with disabilities or special needs are more likely to develop dental problems compared to children without. You must pay particular attention to your child's dental health care. Below are some tips on how you can approach it.

Special Needs in Dentistry

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.

Oral Conditions

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Down syndrome and other genetic disorders can cause delays in tooth eruption, sometimes up to two years. These children may also develop malformed or extra teeth that erupt or even have congenitally missing teeth. Crowding and poor alignment, in general, can leave children prone to gum disease and tooth decay because it makes their teeth difficult to keep clean. In cases of severe intellectual disability or cerebral palsy, children may also habitually grind their teeth, making them flat as they gradually break down the enamel.

Tooth decay and gum disease can also result from a child's impaired immune system and connective tissue disorders. Many of the medications your child may be taking could contain sugar or lead to dry mouth as a side effect, 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 and dentist about the side effects of the medication your child may be taking.

Home Care

It's essential to establish your child's home care routine as soon as you bring them home from the hospital by wiping their gums with a wet gauze pad or a damp washcloth. Once teeth have erupted, brush their teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush, and be sure to floss daily. Be sure to ask your dentist when to start using toothpaste and how much to use. Suppose your child can't rinse or gags easily. In that case, you can brush with antiseptic rinse if your child is older and tolerates the strong taste, which can improve your child's defenses against tooth decay.


Serving nutritious meals and restricting sugary or starchy foods can help baby teeth develop properly and limit exposure to the acid that forms from eating sugar, contributing to tooth decay. Keep healthy snacks in the house and save special sweet treats for mealtime. Brush your child's teeth after eating or have them drink or rinse with water to neutralize those sugary foods' adverse dental effects.

Finding a Dentist

Dentists recommend children have their first dental visit before the age of one, which is especially crucial for children with special needs. Many general and pediatric dentists are equipped to treat children with physical or behavioral disabilities. If you're unsure 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 care. By working closely with your child's dentist to put a prevention plan in place, many potential dental problems can be avoided entirely.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

paper airplane

Want more tips and offers sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up now

Mobile Top Image
Was this article helpful?

Thank you for submitting your feedback!

If you’d like a response, Contact Us.

Mobile Bottom Image