Family Life, Special Needs

Dental Care for Children with Special Needs

It might feel like a war zone when it’s that time of night, and you’re telling your child to go brush and floss their teeth. You might hear the common whining complaints, like “Whyyyy?” or “I don’t want to,” in the rush to get them out the door and to school on time. Yet, parents who have a child with special needs run into several other obstacles and challenges when trying to maintain their child’s oral health.

Parents with children with special needs have a lot of battles to overcome, and oral health is one of them that might be difficult but is necessary. Oral health is connected in many ways to the overall health of the body, so it’s vital to maintain a daily routine to keep your child’s teeth, gums, mouth, and jaw healthy.

If you’re a parent who is feeling lost, angry, frustrated, or running out of steam when it comes to brushing your child’s teeth, especially if they have special needs, here are a few tips and things to keep in mind when finding the right dentist that will be patient, kind, and caring to your child.

“We’re not trying to treat them when they’re in pain. We want to keep them from that,” says Dr. Timothy Delcambre. “That’s what’s most important.”

When typing into Google “Dentists Near Me,” chances are you won’t find an office that truly accommodates your special needs child. You need a dentist who is patient, adaptive, and kind.

For some patients, especially with autism, timing and routine are very important, and when that’s disrupted, it can be very difficult for the child to cope. At Dr. Delcambre’s office, they will schedule patients when it’s most convenient and comfortable for them. Their office is also wheelchair accessible.

Patience is another essential facet when finding the right dentist for your child. Getting work done at the dentist can be painful, uncomfortable, and scary, so having a patient, kind, and caring doctor can make the experience better for your child. Depending on the patient, Dr. Delcambre will go slowly with the treatment.

Every child is different, so it’s also imperative for the doctor to see their medical history prior to their first visit.

When Board Certified Pediatric Dentist Patrick Bowman and his team receive a phone call from a parent of a child with autism, Down syndrome, sensory difficulties, etc., the team will go through a detailed questionnaire with the parent.

“We try to find those trigger points, and then on their visit, we try to set up the environment to be conducive as best as we can,” Dr. Bowman says.

Children can also benefit from the dentist explaining what will happen. “We tell kids what we’re going to do, we show the kids what we’re going to do, and then we do it,” Dr. Bowman says. “Then we follow up with a ton of positive reinforcement afterward.”

As a parent, we learn to prioritize certain things over others and choose our battles carefully. Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence for oral care not to be a priority, but Dr. Delcambre says it should be seen as a top priority.

“This is where nutrition digestion starts,” Dr. Delcambre says. “If you don’t take care of the mouth, teeth, tongue, and cheeks and all the structures there, the patient will begin to have other medical problems.”

Moreover, children with special needs might have damaging oral habits like teeth grinding or clenching, food pouching, or tongue thrusting that can lead to dental issues, states the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Tooth Decay or Cavities: This is a common oral health problem because of the difficulty of effectively brushing the child’s teeth.
Periodontal (gum) Disease: This is caused by plaque build-up on the teeth and is especially common in children with Down syndrome.
Prescription Drug Side Effects: The list of side effects from prescription drugs is long, like dry mouth and swelling, which can make it more challenging to complete the daily routine.

1. Read the Reviews
Before making an appointment with a dentist’s office, jump online and skim a few reviews to ensure the practice will accommodate your child’s needs.

2. Take a Tour
Before your first appointment, bring your kiddo in to meet the team and see the space. You can even ask the office if your child can pick a prize before they leave. Creating a positive association with the dentist can help your child become more comfortable with their future experiences at the dentist’s office.

3. Read Books & Watch Videos
Especially for young children, reading a book or watching a video about going to the dentist can help with the first-day jitters or anxiety.

4. Try a Different-Sized Toothbrush
Consider trying a different toothbrush if your child has difficulty brushing their teeth in the morning or at night.

5. Count to 10 and Take a Break
If your child is in pain or struggling when brushing their teeth, consider counting out loud to 10 and then giving the child a break. This technique has a psychological component that helps kids be more successful when keeping up with their oral hygiene.

6. Reach Out & Ask Questions
An excellent special needs dentist will answer all your questions, give you advice, and help in every way they can. Don’t be afraid to have a list of questions when finding a new office.

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