Proper oral care is fundamentally important to the overall health of children with special needs. Children’s special needs may make it difficult for them to perform daily oral care for themselves. Children with special needs can have unique issues when it comes to caring for the health of their teeth, gums and mouth. This may be due to the symptoms of their health condition, need for medications that contain sugar, diet, trouble with eating, or oral sensitivity. Dental care may take a back seat to other burning medical issues. Yet, due to the greater risk for children with special needs, it is important to practice good oral healthcare.
These children may have developmental disabilities such as autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or other incurable neuropathies. Or they may have chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma or leukemia. Among the children’s needs, the most prevalent unmet need is dental care. This is probably due to several factors for instance, since a special needs child has a number of needs such as physical, developmental, or emotional, oral or dental health may not be regarded as a priority. Many parents with children who have special needs may lack the confidence in performing oral care for their child due to a lack of information of oral growth and development.
Children who take medication require unique dietary needs and their teeth should be closely monitored. Special needs children who are required to take prescription are often given syrups, instead of pills to swallow. The prescription should not be given at bedtime as the sugar from the prescription may pool overnight making bacteria to flourish hence encouraging tooth decay.
Dental caries (cavities) and gum disease is more prominent in people with disabilities than in the general population. Therefore it is recommended that an infant or child with special health care need should be seen by a dentist six months after the first tooth eruption or by the age of 12 months. Also, depending on the risk factors, children with special healthcare needs may need to visit their dentist more often, about every two to three months.
Parents concerned about the side effects of the prescriptions should either give the child their medication before brushing their teeth in preparation for bed. If not, they should encourage their children to drink some clean water. This automatically reduces the quantity of sugar left behind.