January 20, 2014

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Oral Care for Children with Special Needs

We all know how important it is to keep your teeth, gums and mouth healthy. But did you know that children with special needs are particularly in need of oral guidance and prevention?

One reason for this is that oral health care among children with special needs often takes a back seat to their other health care needs.

Also, many children with special needs experience oral aversion – a defensive reaction to sensations in or around the mouth.  Oral aversion often leads to stress, discomfort and fear during teeth brushing and dental visits.

For children who receive gastrostomy button (GB) feedings, proper oral care is especially important since these children tend to have more plaque, more tooth decay, and an increased rate of dental erosion compared to children who eat by mouth.

And for children with reflux or who receive tube feedings, proper oral care can decrease the levels of bacteria in their mouths. This will decrease the child’s risk of developing aspiration pneumonia, a serious health issue that can lead to lengthy hospital stays and permanent lung damage.

As you can see, there are many reasons why oral care is important for children with special needs. But how do you get started?

Below are a few tips you can follow to ensure your child receives proper oral care – as always, talk with your child’s health care provider before making any changes to his/her dental routine.

  • Play it safe – If you notice signs of oral aversion or defensiveness, avoid placing your fingers into your child’s mouth. You can also request working with a speech therapist who specializes in oral disorders.
  • Start early – Begin oral care as soon as your child’s doctor says it’s OK to do so. Early and continued oral hygiene can help to decrease the severity of oral aversion, improve your child’s overall dental health and decrease oral bacteria.
  • Establish a routine – Maintain a schedule of proper oral care throughout the day and make sure it is followed by all parties caring for your child.
  • Use positive reinforcement – Find opportunities to turn dental care into a more comfortable and familiar experience.
  • Schedule more frequent cleanings – If you are unable to provide adequate oral care on a daily basis, you may want to find a dentist that specializes in dental care for children with special needs.
  • Brush oftenBrushing your child’s teeth after GB feedings or after any episodes of gagging or noted reflux will help clear sugars and acids in the mouth.

Good oral care affects many aspects of your child’s life and overall health.

If care cannot be provided as planned, or if you would like additional guidance on beginning an oral care program for your child, please contact a member of your child’s health care team for assistance.