Keep your child’s smile bright and healthy with these oral health tips.
Kids with special healthcare needs are often at a higher risk for developing dental-related issues, such as tooth decay, gum disease, bruxism, and malocclusions. Reasons for this vary, but some common examples include specialized diets, side effects of medication, physical limitations, a lowered immune system, or sensory sensitivities.
Here are 8 of our favorite tips for helping kids develop a great relationship with dental health and their pediatric dentist.
1. Start dental care as early as possible and book regular visits.
The AAPD recommends kids see a dentist by their first birthday or within six months of their first tooth coming in. At-home dental care should also begin from a very early age, starting with wiping down your child’s gums after a bottle or feeding and graduating to gentle brushing as their teeth erupt. The sooner your child with special needs starts getting used to dental care, the better.
Most kids should see their dentist every six months for a routine checkup and cleaning. Sometimes these checkups and cleanings may be more frequent if your child with special needs is at a higher risk of developing oral health problems or if they simply benefit from frequent visits to keep them familiar with the process.
2. Incorporate tooth-friendly foods and habits into your special needs child’s daily life.
Your child’s diet and at-home dental care habits form the foundation of their oral health. A healthy, nutritious diet and daily brushing will help keep cavities away and lower risks of general oral health issues.
Offering healthy snack options and including plenty of fresh whole foods in meals helps keep your child’s teeth clean, strong, and will reduce their sugar consumption. Reaching out to a pediatric nutritionist is a great idea if your child with special needs has dietary restrictions that affect what they can and can’t eat.
As for daily oral health habits, twice-daily brushing for two minutes and flossing at least once a day should be the goal. Your child’s dentist can help you and your child create a daily routine that’s fun and effective.
3. Keep your child’s dentist up-to-date with their current medications.
You may have noticed that we often ask about any changes to your child’s health history during each checkup, cleaning, and treatment appointment. Not only do we love to know how our youngsters are doing, but we also need to know about any health and medication changes that could impact their oral health.
Medications that can cause dry mouth can increase your child’s chance of developing tooth decay or even gum disease. Kids who regularly take oral liquid medications may also be more prone to developing tooth decay if the product has added sugar.
If your child is on a medication that could affect their oral health, their dentist will be extra vigilant in their preventive care plan.
4. Avoid brushing struggles and try out wipes, gels, and rinses instead.
Sometimes traditional toothbrushes simply don’t work well for every situation. Your child may really not enjoy the feeling of a toothbrush, may not accept a toothbrush every time, or maybe it’s a sensory issue with the texture of toothpaste. Whatever the case may be, there are always plenty of options you can experiment with!
In these situations using dental wipes, gels, or a fluoride mouthwash can be a very useful short- or long-term solution. If you do find your child isn’t a huge fan of brushing, we do encourage you to let their dentist know as more frequent dental cleanings may be recommended.
5. Play “dentist” at home to prepare your special needs child for upcoming visits.
As every parent knows, if you can find a way to turn a task into a game, most kids will be instantly interested in playing. You can combine play with getting your child used to dental appointments by playing “dentist” at home!
Practice some basic tasks such as opening wide, sitting patiently, and having someone gently press around their face, teeth, and gums. Be sure to include some common phrases so it’s easy to make the connection between the action they already know and what a dentist might say.
You can also find toy sets with dental tools at toy stores and online. These toys make for a safe and inviting way to introduce kids to the tools they might see at their dental appointment.
6. Match your special needs child’s mood through engaging fun or distraction.
You know your child best, especially when it comes to their moods and how they react to others.
If your child with special needs is a bit apprehensive while trying to brush or during a dental appointment, acting upbeat, happy, and doing your best to make things as fun as possible can be a great route. Other times, too much excitement can have the opposite effect, especially in situations where your child may also be feeling a bit nervous, tired, or overwhelmed. Acting cool, calm, and low-energy may be much more effective.
Don’t hesitate to share these observations with your child’s dentist and dental care team.
7. Experiment with toothbrush modification to make brushing easier.
Thin, slippery toothbrush handles can make it difficult for kids to get a solid grip and leverage when brushing. Kids who are eager to brush independently can often do so if their toothbrush is modified to match their range of motion or grip strength.
Placing a bicycle handlebar grip or golf club grip over the toothbrush handle is a great idea for kids who need more surface area to hold onto. Another option is to cut a hole at each end of a tennis ball and slide the toothbrush handle through. Gripping a ball may be much more ergonomic than a traditional brush handle.
If DIY isn’t your thing, you can find a ton of different options online as well.
8. Set up an office tour and meet our staff before your special needs child’s visit.
Did you know that we offer Happy Visits for patients and their parents? Happy Visits are a way for you and your child with special needs to tour our office and meet our staff without the added pressure of a dental examination.
Being around strangers and in an unfamiliar environment can be overwhelming, especially when coupled with a dental check-up. These Happy Visits give you and your child a chance to get to know our team in an easy, casual approach.
Book your child’s first appointment or Happy Visit with us today!
If you’re ready to book your child’s first appointment or you’d like to schedule a Happy Visit, you can do so by calling our nearest office or filling out this online form. You can also find our New Patient forms on our website to fill out prior to your child’s visit.