If you are a parent of a child with special needs, managing their oral health care isn’t always easy. But you can make it work. It is important for children with special needs to see a pediatric dentist regularly because they are at a higher risk for oral health problems. A special needs pediatric dentist can treat children with disabilities while accommodating their unique situation.
Who are Children with Special Needs?
Children with special needs are those with physical limitations, developmental disability, or behavioral conditions, such as autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome, that makes learning or performing activities difficult. They are at a higher risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional conditions and require extra attention as well as health services beyond what is required generally.
While children with special needs do face added challenges when taking care of their oral health, the right support from parents, the dentist, and caregivers will make it possible for most to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Below, we discuss some of the common oral health problems faced by special needs children.
Common Oral Health Problems in Children with Special Needs
Tooth Decay and Gum Diseases
The most common oral health problems that children with developmental disabilities develop are tooth decay, gum disease, and missing teeth. This is due to poor oral hygiene. For children who take medication to treat seizures, the side effect can involve the overgrowth of gums or gingival hyperplasia.
This condition shows thin or no enamel on the tooth’s surface, which is more common in children with hearing defects, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. It is characterized by white spots or yellow to brown stains, pits, and chipped enamel. Children with enamel hypoplasia are prone to tooth decay.
Children with special needs are more susceptible to tooth defects or anomalies during developmental stages resulting in variations in the number of teeth present, size, shape, or the arch form.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is quite common in children with severe intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy. This habit may cause tooth abrasion, and, eventually tooth loss, if it continues for an extended period of time.
Also known as malocclusion, misaligned teeth or crowded teeth frequently occurs in children with developmental disabilities. This condition can make it difficult to keep the teeth clean, which can increase the risk of dental caries and periodontal disease.
Delayed Tooth Eruption
Children with growth disturbances can have delayed or inconsistent tooth eruption. Their first baby tooth may not appear until 2 years of age.
Mouth Injury and Trauma
Falls or accidents are more frequent in children with abnormal protective reflexes, cerebral palsy, or seizure disorders. This can result in dental damage and facial trauma.
Disabled children are at a higher risk for oral health problems. However, proper dental care and regular check-ups can help them to have a comfortable overall experience. By doing your research and asking the right questions, you can improve your chances of finding the perfect pediatric dentist for your special needs child. This can lead to a more successful dental experience as well.
What to Look for When Finding a Dentist for Children with Special Needs
- Specialized training. While most pediatric dentists get special training to treat children with disabilities, it’s always recommended to check with the dentist before scheduling the dental appointment.
- Accessibility. Make sure the pediatric dentist’s office is accommodating to your child’s needs inside and outside. For example, if your child uses a wheelchair you will want to make sure the dentist’s office space is wheelchair accessible.
- Extensive experience. It’s best to choose a dentist who has extensive experience with children with special needs since your child will likely need extra care to feel comfortable during their dental visit.
- Resources for parents and caregivers. Special needs children may struggle with dexterity. So, it’s important to look for a pediatric dentist who can educate parents and caregivers on the best ways to provide an at-home oral hygiene routine for the child, such as how to brush and floss the child’s teeth properly.
We also understand that going to a dental appointment can be terrifying for children with special needs. But, with a little extra planning and preparation, a successful visit can be improved by adopting a few simple measures.
Tips to Create a Positive Dentist Visit
- Communication. Days before the scheduled dentist appointment, call the office to discuss making the visit more effective and comfortable, especially if your child has difficulty sitting in the dental chair.
- Involve the whole dentist’s office. Familiarize your child with the pediatric dentist setting, including the dental assistants and other staff members, during the first visit to ensure a positive experience.
- Medication and allergies. Provide a list of medication and any dietary restrictions or challenges your child may have, such as allergies. For example, people with developmental disabilities are more likely to have latex allergies, and it can be life-threatening.
- Special item. On the day of the dentist visit, bring along a favorite item, such as a toy, to help your child to relax.
Dr. Anita Gouri is a special needs pediatric dentist near you in Lafayette, LA, who is adequately trained with the necessary skills and techniques to meet the oral health needs of children with developmental disabilities. Our highly skilled pediatric team at Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry offers personalized dental care for children with special needs in Lafayette, LA, and the surrounding areas and continues to be successful in delivering care to these patients.
Our experience in treating children with disabilities and special needs can help set your child on the right path to good oral health care. We always involve the parents in all aspects of their child’s care so they can communicate openly about the challenges that their child struggles with, which can influence the treatment we provide.
Schedule your child’s appointment today, or contact our office for more information!