Children With Special Needs

Taking care of your child’s mouth

Children with special needs, just like all children, deserve and need proper oral health care from birth. Regular dental visits and proper oral hygiene will keep your child’s mouth healthy and cavity free.

Many oral health problems for children with special needs can stem from lack of proper care. According to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, special needs children are almost twice as likely to have unmet dental problems compared to children without special needs.

Gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums, is common among children, but even more so for children with special needs. Some medications taken by children with special needs may cause dry mouth or gingivitis, complicating their oral health.

Parents who have a child with special needs understand that regular oral hygiene and visits to the dentist can be difficult. Here are some tips to make it easier and more productive for everyone.

Begin Early
  • Begin caring for your child’s mouth soon after birth.
  • Wipe your baby’s gums daily, after feedings and before bedtime, with a clean, wet washcloth. This will get your baby used to having his/her mouth cleaned daily.
Take your child to the dentist by his or her 1st birthday
  • Dental care is available for children with special needs through Maryland’s Medicaid dental program, Maryland Healthy Smiles. Maryland Healthy Smiles provides free dental care for children from birth to 20 years old and for women during pregnancy.
  • Schedule your child’s first dental visit around the time of his or her first birthday.
  • The dentist will identify any problems and will talk to you about how to prevent cavities for your child. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, proper diet, and other ways to prevent cavities should be discussed with the dentist.
  • The first dental visit is also a good time to ask questions and address any other concerns you have about your child’s special health care needs.
  • Early dental visits will get your child familiar and comfortable with going to the dentist. Don’t wait to take your child to the dentist. If your child’s first visit is one that involves more complicated procedures or a lot of time it will be much more difficult. Getting your child used to going to the dentist early on can avoid difficulties later on.
How to brush your child’s teeth
  • Once teeth come in, brush twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Your special needs child may resist brushing due to the feeling of the toothbrush in the mouth or the flavor of the toothpaste.
    • Experiment with different toothpaste flavors.
    • Try different types of toothbrushes, different bristle textures for the toothbrush.
    • Consider using an oral swab if your child cannot tolerate the sensation of a tooth brush.
  • Make sure your child’s toothpaste contains fluoride. Toothpaste that contains fluoride has been shown to prevent cavities.
  • Consider singing a song just before or while you are brushing your child’s teeth to make it a more enjoyable experience.
Communication and routine are essential
  • Talk with your child regularly about the importance of his/her oral health.
  • Create an oral health routine with your child as early as possible.
  • Build brushing the teeth into your child’s morning and nightly routine. Morning and nightly routines are extremely important; bathing, dressing, brushing teeth, and go to bed, etc.
  • Brush your teeth with or in front of your child so he/she can see you practice good oral health too.
  • Unhealthy oral habits, such as putting fingers in the mouth or chewing on foreign objects, should be discouraged.
Taking your special needs child to the dentist
  • Talk to your dentist about your child’s needs and any special accommodations they might be able to provide.
  • Schedule an appoint at the beginning or towards the end of the day, so the dentist will not feel rushed to get to another appointment.
  • Talk to your dentist about making a brief visit before the first dental appointment so your child can meet the dentist, as well as the staff, to gain a level of comfort with them.
  • If necessary, set up multiple visits to allow your child to become more comfortable with the dentist, staff, and environment.
  • During the appointment, sit with your child and use various coping techniques to make sure your child feels as comfortable as possible.
Routine is important. Create and maintain a routine.
  • As with taking care of your child’s teeth at home, having a routine with the dentist is an important way to help your child get comfortable with receiving professional oral health care.
  • If possible, use the same dentist and dental hygienist at all dental visits.
  • Use coping techniques such as hand holding, singing a song, or holding a favorite toy to help your child through the visit. Use similar coping techniques during all visits to help build your child’s comfort level.
  • If your child prefers to wear earmuffs or sunglasses during the appointment, wear them during all appointments.
Using a Social Story
  • A “social story” is a series of pictures that shows the people and the steps that take place during an activity, such as a visit to the dentist.
  • Create a social story about going to the dentist, and use the pictures to show your child what the dentist’s office looks like.
  • Review the pictures to help prepare your child for what to expect at an upcoming visit to the dental office.
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