WHAT IS SPECIAL NEEDS DENTISTRY?
Special needs dentistry is the practice of caring for individuals with special health care needs.
Patients with special health care needs have physical, medical, developmental or cognitive conditions that require specialized care from a trained dentist and dental team. When choosing a dentist for your child, make sure the dentist and team possess the necessary compassion and understanding to help your child navigate the dental experience.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT YOUR CHILD’S EXAM
Scheduling Your Child’s Appointment
When you call our office to schedule your child’s first appointment, let our front desk person know that your child has special health care needs. Depending on your child’s needs, we can schedule extra time, specific rooms, and better prepare for your arrival on the day of their appointment.
Meeting You & Your Child
It may be helpful for your child to come to the office and meet us before scheduling an appointment. If you believe your child would benefit from a complimentary “get to know us” visit, please call.
The dentist will need as much information about your child’s dental and overall health as you can provide, such as when their first teeth came in and their current oral care routine. Any dental records from a previous office will also be helpful and allow us to provide more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Whether to avoid trauma or unnecessary complications, sometimes it’s easier for children with special needs to receive treatment under sedation. If you think your child will be better served and treated using sedation, we can discuss options at this time.
Cleaning & Exam
When your child feels comfortable and we have all the information we need, we will perform a thorough exam. Depending on your child’s comfort level, we may proceed with the cleaning. Should your child need a little more time to get comfortable, we may recommend practice visits.
Treatment Recommendation & Follow Up
After the cleaning and exam, we will discuss our findings with you. If your child is healthy, we will schedule your child for a follow up visit in six months. In the event we find treatment needs, options and recommendations will be thoroughly discussed.
CARE STRATEGIES FOR PATIENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Establish A Dental Home
If you are the parent of a child with special needs, we encourage you to seek dental care for your child early, as this is often vital to promoting good dental health and comfort in the dental office. Many children with special health care needs take a little more time to develop trust. Although you may be nervous about how your child will behave, or how he or she will be treated, rest assured we are more than comfortable in seeing all kids with special health care needs ranging from autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome and other syndromes, cerebral palsy, sensory integration, and others.
We are sensitive to the fact that many children with special needs have sensitivities to artificial colors, gluten, and fluoride. Our polishing pastes are free of all of these ingredients.
Provide Comprehensive Medical History
When we fully understand your child’s medical history, our team is better prepared to serve your child’s specific needs. The goal is to understand your child’s unique needs while providing necessary dental care. A comprehensive and up-to-date medical history helps our team provide accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment.
Helpful information can include: the primary dental issue or complaint; a list of current illnesses or history of medical conditions; a list of healthcare providers; a history of hospitalizations, surgeries, anesthetic experiences, current medications, allergies, sensitivities, and thorough dental history.
Explore Behavior Guidance
Children with special health care needs are often resistant to dental care due to anxiety or a lack of understanding of the environment and/or procedures. We incorporate techniques of Floortime® and relationship development to help our special patients feel safe and supported. We create a peaceful environment for all of our patients. Our office does not have the typical pediatric dental office “open bay” style. All our dental operatories are either semi-private or private, providing privacy and less sensory stimulation for the children.
Explore Sedation Options
Sedation can be a powerful and helpful tool to give your child the dental care they need. Our team will consider your child’s needs and the findings of our examination to determine if sedation is necessary and which type will be most beneficial to your child. Consultation with your child’s other health care providers may be necessary when considering sedation options. Current medications, temperament, and your child’s specific needs will all affect this decision, so it’s important to be thorough in your child’s dental and medical history.
Individualized At-home Oral Care Routine
Depending on your child’s abilities, he or she may be at an increased risk of developing cavities and gingivitis simply from not being able to maintain a healthy oral care routine. After we complete our examination, we will offer ideas and will recommend products that can help you and your child keep your child healthy.
Consider Diet In Terms Of Oral Health
Diet and nutrition have huge effects on our dental health. The food we eat that’s good for our bodies is usually good for our teeth. However, patients with special health care needs often have special diets as well. Whenever possible, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and organic dairy products is recommended.
Children with special health care needs are sometimes picky eaters and are frequent snackers (grazers). This dramatically increases their risk for cavities since many snack foods are high in carbohydrates. We will help you navigate different options.
Additionally, many teachers and therapists offer sweet treats as rewards for good behavior. While we certainly understand this strategy, we can provide you with alternative options that you can share with your child’s teachers and therapists.
HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT SPECIAL NEEDS DENTISTRY? FIND ANSWERS HERE.
Conditions that may affect your child’s dental care include:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Cleft Lip & Palate
- Down Syndrome
- Hearing Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
When you call to inquire about an appointment, let our team know your child’s condition and needs, and we’ll work together to determine if our practice is the right fit for your family.
Your child’s oral health may be affected by therapies or medications that have been used to treat their condition. The condition itself may also affect how the teeth and oral structures grow, how much calcium is in the body (affecting tooth enamel), how much saliva your child produces (saliva helps clear away food particles), and your child’s diet.
Nutrition plays a critical role, not only in the health of our bodies, but in the health of our teeth. Even your child’s ability to chew solid foods will affect their dental health, as the pressure of chewing creates stimulation in the jaw bone and the friction helps clear away tartar and plaque build up.
The most common indicators that your child may have a special health care need include:
- Teeth grinding or bruxism: Although many children grind their teeth and often grow out of the habit, the condition can be caused by stress and anxiety. It’s important to treat the underlying issue to stop bruxism and protect your child’s teeth.
- Food pouching: Food or sensory sensitivities can cause children to hold food in their mouths for longer than they should. This creates a place for cavity-causing bacteria to thrive.
- Bad breath: Certain conditions such as digestive diseases, diabetes or chronic sinusitis can cause bad breath.
Several kid-friendly, liquid medicines contain a syrup base with added sugar so children will actually take the medication and benefit from its effects. However, these sugars can cause cavities if they’re not properly rinsed or brushed away after use.
Other medications can cause a reduction in saliva, or dry mouth. And since saliva helps clear away food particles, sugars and bacteria from the mouth, dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, or infection. It’s important that you share a list of medications your child uses, so our team can provide oral care recommendations that work around your child’s medical needs.
Sometimes children with physical, emotional, behavioral, intellectual or communication disabilities may find it difficult to properly brush their own teeth. They may not possess the fine motor skills needed, and will need your help to maintain good oral health. Here are a few tips to help you brush your child’s teeth:
- Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles that’s made for children. You child may be more interested in brushing if the toothbrush has their favorite character on the handle or if it’s their favorite color.
- Use oral hygiene aids, like brushes with larger handles. If your child has trouble holding their toothbrush, try fastening the toothbrush with a string, strap or your own hand and guiding them on the right technique.
- Pick a fluoride toothpaste that your child likes. They come in many different flavors and colors, so you should be able to find one that they enjoy.
- Monitor the amount of toothpaste used. You should apply the toothpaste to the brush, so they don’t use too much, and monitor your child as they brush, so they don’t swallow the toothpaste.
- Make it fun! Sing songs, count, or say the alphabet while your child brushes so they get a sense of how long they should brush, and stay entertained while brushing.