Dental care is another medical concern for many families. Opposition to basic dental hygiene, limited diet, physical disability, sensory issues, and resistance to professional dental care can be obstacles to keeping those pearly whites in good shape.
Healthy dental care habits can be tricky to instill in a child with special needs. If your child is able to brush his own teeth, try to establish a routine at a very young age. Your child may respond to brushing with a sibling. Children are powerful role models for other children. Chances are that your child wants to be like his siblings. Establish a tooth brushing routine for everyone … together.
Contributions to Unhealthy Teeth
Some children do not have proper eating habits to maintain strong healthy teeth. This could be the result of a physical disability that prevents the child from chewing hard, crunchy foods.
A diet limited by sensory issues can also have a detrimental effect on dental health. Some children with autism will eat only a few preferred foods. They may never eat crunchy carrots or apples. They may never use their teeth to bite and chew a piece of meat. With time, the teeth can become soft and more susceptible to decay.
Some conditions necessitate seeing a dentist experienced with special needs. Severe malformations of the teeth and oral cavity can cause treatment complications. In the case of a child with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), there is a risk of the jaw remaining open permanently after dental procedures are completed.
Professional Dental Care
When it comes time to visit the dental hygienist or dentist, there are additional concerns. Sometimes it is difficult to find a dentist who will treat a child with special needs. The dentist's reluctance could come from several reasons:
Lack of training
Lack of proper equipment
Lack of understanding of special needs
Fear of unintentionally hurting the child
Insufficient time to make treatment cost effective
Use the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions website to find a dentist who has experience in treating children with special needs.
Whether your child will see your family dentist, a pediatric dentist, or a dentist who is experienced in treating children with special needs, you will want to practice with your child before he goes to the dentist's office. Use the same technique as when practicing for a medical emergency. Have a doll or stuffed animal be the first dental patient. Then a sibling or parent can be the patient while someone else is the dentist. Be sure to encourage your child to take a turn at the mock dentist's office as well.
Another way to practice is to use a children's book about visiting the dentist. You may read the text or have your child read it depending on his cognitive and language skills. The most important thing is to talk about the pictures. Then talk about your child being the one who will go to see the dentist.