Special Needs Children and Adults

Dental Care

Starting preventive dentistry early is particularly important for the special needs child. If dental care is started early and followed conscientiously, every child can enjoy a healthy smile.

Unlike many of the health conditions faced by patients with special needs, dental disease is preventable. A special needs child will benefit from the preventive approach recommended for all children – effective brushing and flossing, limited snacking, adequate fluoride, sealants and regular visits with a local dentist.

Pediatric dentists are the dental professionals of choice for children with special needs. Their education as specialists focuses on care for children including those with special needs. They are a kids dentist that provide dental health services for medically compromised or mentally delayed children

Pediatric dentists are not just for children. As a result of their experience and expertise in helping patients with special needs, they are often the best choice for the dental care of adults with special needs as well. Some of the more common conditions that require special care in dentistry include Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epileptic or seizure disorders, vision and hearing impairments, cleft lip/palate and other craniofacial conditions, and learning and developmental disabilities. 

Special Considerations for Special Children

As a parent of a child with special needs, you may have concerns about your child’s tolerance of a dental visit. Whatever your concerns, do not postpone preventive dentistry for your child. Pediatric dentists understand that each child is unique and may need extra care to feel comfortable during dental treatment. For example, one child might do great with positive communication, another might benefit from a body blanket to help control involuntary movements, and still another might need mild sedation to feel relaxed during treatment. Depending on your child's medical history may require other types of sedation dentistry such as iv sedation or treatment under general anesthesia at a Children's hospital. Pediatric dentists stand ready with a variety of possible approaches; you can help select the approach that is best for the specific health and behavioral needs of your child.

Certain Conditions Pose Oral Health Risks

What parents should watch for:

  • Developmental disabilities - Enamel irregularities, gum infections, baby teeth or permanent teeth coming in later than expected.
  • Down syndrome - Gum infections, dry mouth, and problems with the way teeth fit together.
  • Cleft lip/palate - Dental decay, congenitally missing teeth, crowded teeth or bite problems, other craniofacial anomalies.
  • Cerebral palsy - Dental decay or gum disease if food is not easily cleared from the teeth or mouth.

Home Care Tips

Many people with physical or developmental disabilities need someone to help them with regular preventive oral care. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Brush twice a day. The best times are after breakfast and before bed.
  • Begin flossing once a day when adjacent tooth surfaces cannot be cleansed by brushing alone.
  • Parents and caregivers should use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste for children under 2-years-old. For those 2 to 5 years of age, use a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste should be used. Swallowing too much toothpaste can lead to fluorosis, a cosmetic condition usually characterized by white or brown specks on the teeth.
  • If a child cannot tolerate toothpaste, perhaps because of gagging or an inability to spit, parents and caregivers should brush the teeth with a fluoride rinse or fluoridated water. This will still help prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Get a new one when the bristles no longer stand straight up, usually every three months.
  • Talk to a pediatric dentist for recommendations to meet a special child's needs. Many products, such as floss holders, fluoride rinses and adaptive aids for toothbrushes are available to help a patient with special needs prevent tooth decay and gum disease.