Children with special needs can have unique issues when it comes to caring for the health of their teeth, gums, and mouth. Your child may have dental problems as a result of their health condition or from medications or treatments they may take.
A low-sugar diet is important. Children may be more likely to have tooth decay if they have problems cleaning their teeth or take medication. Make sure fizzy drinks and sugary foods/drinks are kept to mealtimes only and are taken in small amounts.
Caring effectively for your child’s dental needs will rely on understanding the unique symptoms of your child’s health condition, including diet, trouble with eating, or oral sensitivity. For example, some medications can cause dry mouth, excessive growth of gum tissue, tooth staining or even affect tooth development.
Your child’s condition can also impact their dental health in many ways:
- How their teeth and oral structures will grow.
- How the calcium is laid down in the tooth’s enamel (the tooth’s top layer) as the teeth grow.
- How much spit (saliva) your child makes in their mouth: saliva helps clear food and protects teeth.
- How often and what your child is able to eat: soft foods and liquids do not give the teeth, gums, and muscles of the mouth the stimulation they need.
Common Dental Concerns for Children with Special Needs
- GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease): GERD can cause your child’s mouth to be acidic which can wear down the teeth.
- Holding food in the mouth: some children will hold food in their mouth or cheeks much longer than usual (this is called food pouching). This creates a good place for bacteria, causing cavities to grow.
- Grinding (bruxism): your child may grind or gnash their teeth while sleeping or during the day. Over time, grinding can damage teeth. This is common and most children outgrow the habit.
- Bad breath: some digestive problems, chronic sinusitis, diabetes, and certain medications may cause bad breath.
- Dry mouth: may be a result of your child’s condition or from medication. This can affect nutrition and can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and mouth infections.
- Delay in first teeth coming in: This is common in children with Down syndrome.
- Medicine can affect teeth and gums: liquid syrups and medicines with sugar can cause cavities. Other medicines can cause dry mouth and reduce how much saliva (spit) your child makes. These may include: antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-GERD medicine, sedatives, and barbiturates. Some seizure medicines may cause enlarged gums, causing them to bleed.
The team at About Smiles Kids Dental can advise you on treatment options for these conditions.
What do we need to know?
Our Paediatric Specialist Dr Caroline Chung is highly experienced in special needs dentistry.
It is important for us to know your child’s medical history and any medications they are taking. This includes any inhalers and regularly prescribed medicines. We will also need details of your GP and about any recent operations.
It is also helpful if you can inform us about any concerns or anxieties your child may have, so we can help to make them feel at ease.