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Dental care tips for children with special needs

Photo: William Warby/Flickr


Kids with special health care needs can be more difficult to treat in dental offices. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) offers the following tips to help kids with special needs and their caregivers have a positive experience at the dentist and maintain healthy smiles: 

Pediatric dentists are the best resource for oral health. Pediatric dentists are the dental professionals of choice for children with special needs. All pediatric dentists are trained in the care of patients with special needs. Beyond dental school, pediatric dentists have 2-3 years of specialized training in areas such as addressing anxiety related to dental visits. Talk to your pediatric dentist about best-practice recommendations that can help better meet your child’s specific needs. For example, many products, such as floss holders, fluoride rinses and adaptive aids for toothbrushes are available to help a patient with special needs prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

Find a Dental Home early! The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends visiting a pediatric dentist by your child’s first birthday – or when the first tooth appears to establish a Dental Home, or home base, for your child’s dental needs. Parents and caregivers of special needs children often have concerns about their child’s tolerance of a dental appointment, but postponing the visit is not the answer. Pediatric dentists recognize that each child is unique and may need extra care to feel comfortable. They are familiar with a variety of approaches and look to parents or caregivers to select the best approach for the specific health and behavioral needs of each child.[ii] For example, according to the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, research shows that patients with autism do particularly well if they can see the same staff and same dentist for every appointment.[iii] Furthermore, as a result of their experience and expertise in helping patients with special needs, pediatric dentists are often the best choice for the dental care of adults with special needs as well.[iv]

Tooth decay is almost 100 percent preventable. Unlike many of the health conditions faced by patients with special needs, tooth decay is mostly preventable. Children with developmental problems have a greater chance for bite problems, such as crowding, bite and poor jaw position.[v] Additionally, children who experience delays in growth and development may also take longer to get their baby teeth and adult teeth.[vi] A pediatric dentist will be able to identify any issues early on and provide a recommendation for care. All children benefit from a preventive approach – proper brushing and flossing, limited snacking and regular visits with a pediatric dentist.

Practice makes perfect. Often, children with special needs require more assistance and practice in taking care of their teeth. For example, children with autism might have sensory issues that can make proper dental hygiene challenging and brushing teeth difficult because the sensation can be uncomfortable at first. Parents might want to start by using the toothbrush to touch your child’s lips or just inside the mouth.[vii] 

For more information and practical advice from a pediatric dentist, view this article in its entirety via the AAPD's Mouth Monsters website. 


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