Dental Care for Children with Special Needs
If there is one habit that seems to be consistent among children from all backgrounds is a strong dislike for dental care. Getting them to brush their teeth before bed is always a daunting task, more so for the parents of a youngster with special needs.
When it comes to oral health matters, children with special needs face unique issues. This may be due to oral sensitivity, the need for medications that contain sugar, symptoms of their condition, trouble with eating, or diet.
Several developmental issues can make everyday dental care for children problematic: They include:
- Down syndrome
- Cerebral palsy
- Spinal cord injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Visual and hearing impairments
- Muscular dystrophy
Their condition may affect:
- The growth of teeth and oral structures.
- How the calcium in the enamel is laid down.
- The amount of saliva present in your child’s mouth. Saliva plays a key role in protecting teeth and clearing food.
- The types of food your child can eat and frequency. If the diet comprises soft foods and liquids, the gums, teeth, and muscles in the mouth will not receive the stimulation that they need. Even if your child uses G-tubes they may be more likely to have tartar build-up on their teeth and develop cavities, making it vital to clean their teeth and gums.
Considering their condition, oral care may not take precedence. However, it is crucial as such factors place them at even greater risk, making good oral practice, despite the challenges, essential.
What are the Common Dental Concerns for Children with Special Needs?
Some dental issues are more common in children with special needs. They include:
Tooth Eruption Irregularities
At about 6-12 months, children begin developing teeth and they’ll normally have their first set by age 3. All this depends on several factors such as jaw development and genetics. Conditions that cause growth disturbances can accelerate, delay, or cause inconsistent growth of teeth. For instance, Down Syndrome can delay the emergence of teeth for up to two years.
Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a condition that causes the mouth to be highly acidic, leading to corrosion of teeth. There are pastes that your dentist can prescribe to help address the condition. If there are other physical symptoms, they may prescribe an antacid.
Children with bruxism often gnash or grind their teeth during the day or while asleep, thus damaging their teeth. This habit is common in children with a severe intellectual disability or those with cerebral palsy.
Conditions such as Down Syndrome cause anomalies in tooth development. These are observed in the form of irregular shapes, sizes, or numbers.
In children with developmental disabilities, malocclusion is common. It causes the upper and lower teeth not to fit correctly. In children with cerebral palsy, in particular, muscle dysfunction is also a contributing factor.
Managing special needs often comes with the need to take medications frequently. Some of these medications contain sugar and can cause dry mouth, tooth decay, and even gum overgrowth.
Cavities and Gum Disease
Some of the conditions associated with special needs children weaken the immune system. Along with connective tissue disorders, this may cause tooth decay and gum infections.
Dental Care Tips for Special Needs Children in Brisbane
Though they may not like it and are likely to present some form of resistance, it is essential to introduce your child to the concept of oral hygiene as early as possible. This will make it easier for them to adopt and incorporate it into their daily routine.
Begin practicing dental hygiene care with them even before the first tooth appears. Use a wet gauze pad to wipe your child’s gums. When teeth start appearing ask your pediatrician how much fluoride toothpaste you should use. Use a soft toothbrush and brush your child’s teeth two times a day and floss daily.
The secret to succeeding in setting the right foundation for oral care is patience. Unlike other children, yours may have sensory challenges especially if they have autism. Your goal is not to brush their teeth but make them more comfortable with the process and appreciate it. Though it may seem challenging, it is more stressful for them. Break down the procedures into small steps to make the process easier for both of you.
Instead of inserting the toothbrush directly into their mouth, begin by gently rubbing it against their cheek. Move it gradually towards their mouth and only begin brushing when they seem comfortable with it. Try the following tips to make the process easier:
- Apply a very thin layer of toothpaste.
- Use water to rinse your child’s mouth after meals, snacks, or medication, every time you are away from home.
- Try brushing in other areas of the house they are comfortable in such as their bedroom.
- Use distractions to get them less focused on their teeth. You can do this by giving them something to hold while you brush them or ask them to brush your teeth while your brush theirs.
- Lay the child on a bed or sofa or have them lie on your lap as you brush their teeth. This helps them remain still and keep their mouth open.
- Dip the toothbrush into a fluoride mouth rinse if your child is sensitive to toothpaste.
- Seek professional assistance to help decrease sensitivity.
- Use a cloth to wipe their mouth if they are unable to spit
Use the Right Toothbrush
When it comes to children with special needs, you need to use every possible advantage to support their oral hygiene. In this regard, the toothbrush you use is a key factor. Since you may not get them to brush for too long, it’s important to get as much done as possible in that short time. This is why you must use a toothbrush designed with special needs children in mind.
For this, the Collis Curve Toothbrush is the ideal option. It comes with a centre row of short straight bristles and two outer rows with curved bristles. This design allows you to brush all the sides of your teeth at once, reducing the amount of time necessary for oral care.
While using the Collis Curve toothbrush, make small back and forth motions as you progress from the front of one side to the back. As you clean, tilt it a little to ensure you reach the gums too. If you notice some bleeding, it’s normal as it may be an indication of plaque buildup. However, if it persists, schedule a visit to a paediatric dentist in Brisbane.
Collis Curve Toothbrushes come in five variations:
- Baby (Green Cap)- Suitable for use when teeth start appearing to age 6 when molars begin emerging.
- Youth/Junior (Blue Cap)- Suitable for use at age 6 when first permanent molars appear up to age 12.
- Adults Soft (Clear/White Cap)- This toothbrush is suitable for adults with special needs who need assistance with oral care. Its design promotes blood circulation in gums.
- Adult Medium (Black Cap)– Suitable for adults with healthy gums.
- Adult Perio (Red Cap)- This brush has been designed for individuals who have recessed gums or braces and other dental appliances.
Dentist Visits for Brisbane Children with Special Needs
A crucial part of maintaining good oral health is going to the dentist regularly for checkups. All children should be taken to the dentist by age one or 6 months after their first tooth emerges; whichever comes first.
Ordinarily, the dentist’s office is a scary place for children. Your child’s first visit must be positive to make future visits easier. Though there are many dentists specialized in children, not all have experience dealing with children with special needs. Therefore, your first task is finding a dentist who will cater to the dental needs of your child without affecting their emotional wellbeing.
Some of the things you should do before your first visit include:
- Consult with your child’s primary care as you plan the visit your dentist may need to consult with them. This is especially so for children with lung or heart conditions.
- Schedule for the first or last appointment for the day
- Ask the staff to call you on your cell phone for your appointment as staying in the waiting room can make them nervous.
- Inquire from your Brisbane kids dentist before the visit about their behavioral management techniques during treatment and sedation.
As your child grows, you must train them to perform such tasks alone. This is where setting the right foundation comes in. Not unless they appreciate the value of oral hygiene or are comfortable with it, they will not take good care. Some conditions are associated with dexterity challenges. If so, an electric toothbrush will make it easier for your child.
Considering the added risks your child’s faces and the challenges with maintaining good oral hygiene, it is advisable to limit starchy and sugary foods in his diet. Nutritious meals help reduce the likelihood of tooth decay, setting the right stage for permanent teeth.
Getting the Best for Your Child
The dental facility you choose for your child is crucial to how they respond to dental care in the future. Do thorough due diligence and make sure that it is a practice that creates the right environment for special needs children.
At Pure Dentistry, we not only have top-notch dentists but personnel who are adept at dealing with the unique needs of your child. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for your child.