Dental Care for Kids with Special Needs

Dental care is important for people of all ages, including kids with special needs. Children with special needs may require more dental services due to cleft lip or palate, down syndrome, neurological disorders, cerebral palsy, learning or developmental disabilities and other impairments. They are also more likely to develop dental problems than children without special needs, making these visits to the dentist even more imperative. 

When Should My Child Visit the Dentist? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association say that a child should start seeing a dentist by the time they are 1 year old — or as soon as the first tooth appears. With so few teeth, why visit the dentist? This well-visit helps the parents better understand how to care for their child’s teeth in the different stages. It also introduces your child to the dentist, which can be a great thing for children with special needs who do best in familiar environments. 

How to Prepare for a Dentist Visit

There may come a time when a trip to the dentist becomes a little “scary” for your child. Assess where your child is currently and see what needs to be done in advance to prepare for the upcoming visit. 

  • Find a book about a trip to the dentist. You can even create a story for your child about their own experience with the dentist. In the story, you can list specific information about their visit, like the date and time you will be going, the name of the dentist and exactly what will happen when your child walks into the office. 
  • Visit the dentist office prior to the appointment. For some children, this may cause more anxiety, but if you think your child may benefit, then this can be a good way to remind them of the dentist office and walk them through what will happen while they are there. 
  • Find a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentist offices are made for children, so they are incredibly kid-friendly. They are often brightly colored with fun murals on the walls and things to do in the waiting room. Oftentimes, they will have TVs with kids’ shows playing in the rooms where the dental work is done.
  • A little bribe can go a long way. If your child has a special treat they really enjoy, let them know it will be available to them after the appointment is over. 
  • Have your child bring a special blanket, stuffed animal or lovey with them for comfort. 
  • If your child is easily overstimulated and doesn’t like certain sounds, bring a pair of noise-canceling headphones.  

Dental Care at Home

According to Harvard Health Publishing, people with ASD may have difficulty engaging in healthy dental hygiene habits, like brushing and flossing, due to sensory sensitivities. Some may have certain habits, like grinding their teeth, tapping or hitting their mouth and teeth, chewing nonfood objects, or eating sugary foods, that can also affect their dental health. Additionally, it may be difficult for some with ASD to communicate problems with their teeth, resulting in delays in care. 

Establishing a routine with oral care at a young age is recommended. Brushing should begin as soon as the first tooth comes in, using a small smear of fluoride-containing toothpaste. If the child has taste or texture sensitivity, parents can experiment with different flavors, or unflavored or nonfoaming toothpastes (sodium lauryl sulfate-free). There are many choices for toothbrushes, such as a spinning or battery-powered toothbrush for children who like vibration.

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