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Dental Care for Special-Needs Kids

Children with disabilities often deal with special dental problems. For instance, they are more likely to have gum disease than children without disabilities. They're also more likely to have missing teeth. Conditions that may require special considerations in providing dental care include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, seizure disorders, vision and hearing impairments, and learning disabilities.

What's the connection? Here are a few reasons special-needs kids may be at a higher risk for dental problems:

  • They might take chronic medications that has a high sugar content, causes dry mouth, or cause excess gum growth, all things that are harmful to their dental health.

  • Some are prescribed a soft or other special diet that is high in starches or toher carbohydrates that stick to the teeth and can lead to dental problems.

  • Some children may have physical limitations that make it difficult to carry out dental hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing.

  • Some children have muscle issues that can make it difficult to sit in a dental chair.

The good news is that dental health for people with special needs is improving. And parents can do a lot to help keep their child's smile healthy:

  • Seek care from a pediatric dentist. Their training includes learning how to care for children with special needs. Many general dentists also have training or skills in managing persons with special needs.

  • Don't skip or put off dental visits because you're concerned about how your child will act. Find a pediatric or general dentist that understands your child may need extra care. They have many different ways of making your child feel comfortable. For instance, a body blanket may help control involuntary movements, or mild sedation may help your child relax. Together, you and your dentist can choose the approach that's best for your child.

  • If the dentist's drill scares your child, bring headphones and a portable music player loaded with your child's favorite tunes.

  • At home, supervise or help with teeth brushing and flossing if needed.

  • If your child is under age six or is unable to spit, place a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste on their brush. This will still help prevent tooth decay without a small child getting too much fluoride from swallowing toothpaste.

"Anxiety." Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/anxiety. Accessed 2013.

"Fast Facts." American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.aapd.org/assets/1/7/FastFacts.pdf. Accessed 2013.

"Practical Oral Care for People with Developmental Disabilities." National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/developmentaldisabilities/continuingeducation_mobile.htm#uncontrolled. Accessed 2014.

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