For a child with autism, a developmental delay or a disability, brushing, flossing, and dentist visits can be extremely difficult. Yet, oral hygiene is crucial, especially because studies show special needs children are more likely than typical kids to have cavities and other dental problems, Fox News reports.
Cavities, gum disease and oral trauma
Special needs kids often have difficulty brushing effectively, because they don’t have the physical or mental ability to be able to do it by themselves.
Certain medications with a high sugar content can cause swollen gums. Likewise, if a child uses a feeding tube, or eats high sugar foods because of a failure to thrive, he or she is more susceptible to gingivitis, inflammation of the gums, and tartar, according to Dr. Rebecca Slayton, chief dental director and chair of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation’s scientific advisory board.
If your child has special needs, here are 10 ways you can keep his or her teeth healthy at home and make dentist visits stress-free.
1. Make brushing easy
For kids who need help brushing, put the toothbrush in a bicycle handle so “they have something big, thick and spongy to hold onto,” Goldberg said. Brushing should always be supervised, and if floss doesn’t work, use water pick. If your child bites, place gauze on the back teeth and then brush.
2. Keep it fun
The earlier brushing becomes a pleasant experience, the easier it will be to make it a habit, according to Fern Ingber, president and CEO of the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation: America’s Tooth Fairy. Try to brush when your kid is most cooperative, and distract him or her with music or something pleasant.
3. Find a good dentist
Most pediatric dentists work with special needs kids, but it’s important to find one who is patient, will take time to explain everything to your child, and work with you to make sure your child is comfortable. “If you get a compassionate doctor, it will be a great experience,” Goldberg said.
4. Call ahead
When you make a dentist’s appointment, provide the staff with information about your child and his specific needs. A heads-up can allow them to set up the office and make sure extra staff will be on hand to help. If your child cannot sit in the chair, the dentist can also find an alternative.
5. Do paperwork beforehand
Ask the office to send all of the paperwork ahead of time, and bring a copy of your insurance card with you so you can save time and give your child the attention he or she needs.
6. Bring a comfort object
Kids don’t know what to expect at the first dentist visit, so bring a favorite blanket, toy, or toothbrush so they’re not afraid.
Talk to your child about what to expect at the dentist – from the chair that tilts back to the tools the dentist uses.