Caring for the physical and emotional needs of a child with special needs can be very difficult for parents. Dental health is one of many issues that is important for parents to pay attention to. Understanding how challenging this can be, below you will find a guide to oral hygiene for children with special needs.
Common pediatric dental needs in children with special needs
Children with special needs are those with advanced physical, developmental, behavioral and/or emotional challenges who typically require more extensive dental and medical services. Some children with special needs have delays in tooth eruption, malformed or extra teeth, or even missing teeth. Dental issues or poorly aligned teeth can also cause gum disease and tooth decay, because they are difficult to keep clean. Also, if the child requires medication, it may cause dry mouth, which can lead to tooth decay.
How to care for your child’s teeth at home
While a pediatric dentist who specializes in children with special needs can offer great tips on caring for your child’s teeth, there are some actions you can take at home to keep their teeth healthy. Try introducing teeth brushing to your child by brushing your teeth together. Children with learning disabilities or other special needs learn habits by watching their parents or siblings brush, so this activity can help them understand the importance of brushing and how to brush. For better results, be sure to introduce brushing at a young age. If you start at a young age, children will be more likely to continue the habit.
Keep in mind that depending on the disability, many children with special needs may have a hard time actually gripping the toothbrush, so find brushes with larger handles that are easier to grip, or add additional gripping for easier use.
Make brushing fun for your child. By having brushing teeth turn into a game to ease your child’s anxiety. Make faces while you brush, make up a silly song or little dance; anything that makes brushing more enjoyable for your child. If you can turn the daily activity of brushing into a positive one, your child is more likely to continue the activity with little fuss or anxiety.
Taking your child with special needs to the dentist
Going to the dentist can cause anxiety in any child, regardless of their physical or emotional state. A child with special needs or learning disability may suffer increased anxiety if they don’t know what to expect, as a visit to a pediatric dentist is a change in routine. There are a few things you can do to make the trip better. First, help your child get used to the idea of visiting the dentist. This can simply include driving by the office and pointing it out to the child without stopping. It could be a quick visit to the dentist’s office just to meet the dentist and staff to make the surrounding more familiar. You can also build positive excitement around the visit by talking it, or circling the wall calendar with bright colors as the day nears. Work with your pediatric dentist to make the first visit as short as possible. Bringing along an object to comfort them during the visit is good too, such as a stuffed animal, toy or blanket, as it can help ease the stress by providing something familiar to them. I like you to take pictures of the office, dentist, dental assistants, dental tools and equipment and make a picture book to familiarize your child. The unknown is scary, so if they know what to expect then the visit tends to be very positive for everyone.
Good overall dental health is important for all children. Caring for the oral health of children with special needs can help their overall health for years to come.