Special Needs Dental Care
Children with special needs and disabilities tend to be at greater risk for health issues, require additional help, and are dependent on others to achieve and maintain optimal health, including oral health. Unfortunately, many parents find it challenging to balance the requirements of children with special needs as they focus more on pressing medical issues, causing dental care to take a back seat.
However, research shows that those special needs children are nearly twice as likely to have unmet oral problems compared to other children generally. Children with special needs are those who are at greater risk for a chronic physical, behavioral, developmental, or emotional condition, causing them to require a specific type of health or related service, or an amount beyond that offered to children under normal circumstances.
Dental concerns for special needs children
Children may need special dental care if they are suffering from conditions such as epileptic or seizure disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cleft lip or cleft palate, other head or face structural anomalies, developmental or learning disabilities, hearing or vision impairment, or HIV infection.
Although all children can be affected by oral problems such as tooth decay and gum disease, children with special needs are more vulnerable due to their impaired mobility and cognitive abilities, neuromuscular problems such as drooling and gagging, gastroesophageal reflux, seizures, and uncontrolled body movements. These complications often become barriers to obtaining the necessary oral care, which puts them at greater risk for developing other oral health issues such as:
- Teeth grinding – clenching and grinding teeth while sleeping
- Food pouching – holding food in the mouth
- Dry mouth – due to use of certain medication
- Bad breath – due to digestive problems and some medications
- Delayed tooth eruption – especially in children with Down syndrome
Helping children with special needs
Any child may feel anxious when visiting the dentist for the first time, but this may be a bigger challenge for children with special needs.
So parents who have a child with special needs should find a skilled pediatric dentist who has experience working with these children and using sedation dentistry. The right pediatric dentist will become a valuable therapeutic partner who creates a custom oral care program that caters to your child’s specific physical, mental, and emotional needs to acclimate them to the experience of a dental visit. This will make it possible to deliver the necessary oral care and other resources that aid in ensuring the long-term health of your child.