How To Teach Good Oral Hygiene To Your Child With Special Needs


Trying to get any child to lay off the candy and brush their teeth can be a challenge. Yet, for parents with a special needs child, it can be even more problematic as there are other variables that put them at high risk for dental problems. A child’s physical, mental and intellectual abilities will all factor in their ability to comprehend and practice good oral hygiene. With some conditions, such as cerebral palsy and seizure disorders, it might be physically challenging for the child to brush or floss. Then there are special needs children that must adhere to a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars. Others require medications that cause dry mouth and gum growth or are missing teeth, which is common among special needs children.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), dental care is the most common unmet need among  children with special needs. Because cavities left untreated could spread to other parts of the body that may already be compromised by a preexisting condition, it’s important that parents instill good oral hygiene with their child. Following are some time-tested strategies to help parents with the process.

Start Early

Like any good habit or routine, you want to introduce the importance of good oral hygiene early. Even before the first tooth, you should consider wiping your child’s gums with a special toothbrush or washcloth. Later, as your child’s teeth start to come in, you’ll want to introduce him or her to the actual process of brushing. Remember to avoid fluoridated toothpaste until the age of 3.

As soon as teeth become visible in the mouth, brush the teeth with a small, soft-bristle toothbrush. Make brushing in the morning and evening a part of your child’s daily routine.

If your child has sensory issues, you may want to break down the process.

You can start by touching your child’s cheek with the toothbrush, and then lips, before moving to actual brushing. You’ll always want to do it at a time when the child is least cranky and will be most cooperative.

Avoid Sugary Foods & Night Bottles

Limit your special needs child consumption of candy, soda, and snacks. Often parents will use sweets to placate a whining child, award a child for good behavior or to avoid mealtime food battles.

It’s equally important that your bedtime routine doesn’t involve a bottle. The sugars in milk and juice have the potential to decay teeth. Such habits can be setting up your special needs child for lifelong dental problems.

Make Brushing Fun

Once teeth become visible you’ll want to introduce your child to brushing twice daily. Start with a soft-bristle toothbrush. If your child has physical limitations that make it difficult for him to hold or maneuver small things, consider attaching something to the handle.

The aim is to make brushing seem less like a chore, but something fun and enjoyable. Try putting on your child’s favorite song or creating a game out of the process.

Find A Good Dentist

It is recommended a child starts visiting a pediatric dentist on their first birthday. This will help to normalize the process and identify any dental issues that require intervention.

For a child with sensory issues, the sight or feel of dental instruments and the bright office lights can be frightening. It’s important the dentist has extensive experience treating children with special needs, including developmental disorders, physical disabilities, and special behavioral and emotional needs. The office should radiate calm and be equipped with the latest technology that allows the doctor to perform a full range of dental procedures – from X-rays to crowns – in one place.

Be sure to bring the toys and games to distract your during the wait. Some parents find giving their child earphones and allowing them to listen to their favorite music during drilling helps limit anxiety.

Stay Positive

Children pick up on their parents’ emotions. They are also quick to mimic what they see at home. A parent’s own oral hygiene practice and attitude about personal dentist visits will inevitably influence the child’s thoughts and actions.

Richard Mungo, D.D.S., is chair of pediatric dentistry at CHOC Children’s, a pediatric healthcare system in Orange County, California. Dr. Mungo’s philosophy of care is to provide the highest quality of oral health care for the children in an atmosphere that is culturally sensitive and fully attentive to patients’ needs.

Source Exceptional Parent