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Dental Care for Patients with Special Needs

It might feel like a war zone when it’s that time of night, and you’re telling your child to go brush and floss their teeth. You might hear the common whining complaints, like “Whyyyy?” or “I don’t want to,” in the rush to get them out the door and to school on time.

Yet, parents who have a child with special needs run into several other obstacles and challenges when trying to maintain their child’s oral health.

Parents with children with special needs have a lot of battles to overcome, and oral health is one of them that might be difficult but is necessary.

Oral health is connected in many ways to the overall health of the body, so it’s vital to maintain a daily routine to keep your child’s teeth, gums, mouth, and jaw healthy.

If you’re a parent who is feeling lost, angry, frustrated, or running out of steam when it comes to brushing your special needs child’s teeth, here are a few tips and things to keep in mind when finding the right dentist that will be patient, kind, and caring to your child.

When Finding the Right Dentist
When typing into Google “Dentists Near Me,” chances are you won’t find an office that truly accommodates your special needs child. You need a dentist who is patient, adaptive, and kind. It’s also imperative for the doctor to see their medical history prior to their first visit.

At Wash Park Pediatric Dentistry, when they receive a phone call from a parent of a child that has autism, Down syndrome, sensory difficulties, etc., the team will go through a detailed questionnaire with the parent.

“We try to find those trigger points, and then on their visit, we try to set up the environment to be conducive as best as we can,” says Dr. Patrick Bowman, a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist at Wash Park Pediatric Dentistry.

For the kiddos who have autism or sensory triggers, Dr. Bowman and his team can use a low-vibration instrument so the child can still have a professional cleaning. It’s vital for a dentist to adapt to the child’s needs, and another way Wash Park Pediatric Dentistry does this is by providing a bean bag for the children who don’t want to sit in the dental chair.

“They sit on the floor; I sit down with them on the floor,” Dr. Bowman says. “I use this cordless low-vibration type tool, and we can still get in their mouth and do a cleaning that’s equal to what they would receive in a dental chair.”

Many children can also benefit from the dentist explaining what’s going to happen beforehand. “We tell kids what we’re going to do, we show the kids what we’re going to do, and then we do it,” Dr. Bowman says. “Then we follow up with a ton of positive reinforcement afterward.”

Dental Problems to Look Out For
Children with special needs might have damaging oral habits like teeth grinding or clenching, food pouching, or tongue thrusting that can lead to dental issues, states the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Tooth Decay or Cavities: This is a common oral health problem because of the difficulty of effectively brushing the child’s teeth.

Periodontal (gum) Disease: This is caused by plaque build-up on the teeth and is especially common in children with Down Syndrome.

Prescription Drug Side Effects: The list of side effects from prescription drugs is long, like dry mouth and swelling, which can make it more challenging to complete the daily routine.

Dr. Bowman suggests sticking with a consistent dental routine beginning at an early age with children with special needs because it can help them tolerate brushing and flossing their teeth.

Tips to Keep in Mind
1. Read the Reviews
Before making an appointment with a dentist’s office, jump online and skim a few reviews to ensure the practice will accommodate your
child’s needs.

2. Take a Tour
Before your first appointment, bring your kiddo in to meet the team and see the space. You can even ask the office if your child can pick a prize before they leave. Dr. Bowman says that creating a positive association with the dentist can help your child become more comfortable with their future experiences.

3. Read Books & Watch Videos
Especially for young children, reading a book or watching a video about going to the dentist can help with the first-day jitters or anxiety.

4. Try a Different-Sized Toothbrush
Consider trying a different toothbrush if your child has difficulty brushing their teeth in the morning or at night.

5. Count to 10 and Take a Break
If your child is in pain or struggling when brushing their teeth, Dr. Bowman suggests counting out loud to 10 and then giving the child a break. There’s a psychological component in this technique that helps kids be more successful when keeping up with their oral hygiene, he adds.

6. Reach Out & Ask Questions
A good dentist who works with children with special needs will answer all your questions, give you advice, and help in every way they can. Don’t be afraid to have a list of questions when finding a new office.

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