How to Help Your Special Needs Child at the Dentist

Having a child with special needs means doing certain things differently. We know how hard you work to make your child’s life better and to adapt to challenges. And just like any parent, we know how hard you work to keep your child healthy!

If your child has special needs, going to the dentist may be very difficult or uncomfortable — for both of you. At Children’s Choice, we take steps to help our special needs patients feel as comfortable as possible.

Here’s how we make the dentist a relaxing and positive experience for your child with special needs and what you can do to get them ready for the dentist’s chair.

Common Dental Issues for Kids with Special Needs

Children with special needs are at risk of the same dental issues as any child: tooth decay, cavities, plaque buildup, and improper alignment. But your child’s special needs may impact their dental hygiene in other ways as well.

  • Nervousness or anxiety might cause your child to grind or clench their teeth. Bruxism — grinding your teeth at night — is common in children with autism. It can wear your child’s teeth down and might cause pain and sensitivity.
  • Oral habits like mouth breathing and tongue thrusting are common in children with special needs. Mouth breathing can dry out your child’s mouth, which might put them at greater risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Tongue thrusting — pressing your tongue forward in your mouth — can change the alignment of your child’s teeth and may cause speech impediments.
  • Children with Down’s Syndrome might have delayed tooth eruption, meaning their teeth emerge later in life.
  • Some children with special needs produce less saliva. Saliva washes away bacteria and food. Without it, your child’s teeth are at greater risk of decay.
  • Food pouching, holding food in your mouth for long periods of time, can be a common habit for children with special needs. Food pouching increases the likelihood of tooth decay.
  • Malocclusion is the misalignment of your upper and lower teeth. This is more common in children with special needs and might need to be corrected.
  • Some medications for special needs children put them at greater risk. Many pediatric medicines are sugary liquid syrups to make them easier for children to take. The high sugar content can cling to teeth and cause decay.

Children with special needs might be sensitive to sensations (like brushing or flossing), or it might be harder to encourage them to do daily self-care tasks. Brushing and flossing less frequently can increase the risks of dental issues as well.

That means dental care for special needs children is even more important. Bring your child in for a cleaning every 6 months so we can help you keep their teeth healthy.

Dental Care for Special Needs Patients

As a pediatric dentist, Children’s Choice works every day to give kids a great experience going to the dentist.

For our patients with special needs, we take extra steps to make your child feel comfortable and safe.

Physical Special Needs

  • All our pediatric dentist offices are ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible.
  • We have teams who will support your family with physical assistance and special equipment like your child’s wheelchair or movement device.
  • We can make your child’s visit more comfortable by scheduling their appointment at a quieter time during the day to make navigating in, out, and around the office easier.

Overstimulation

For children who have negative reactions to overstimulation (including many on the autism spectrum or those with Down’s Syndrome), a pediatric dentist’s office with bright lights, loud sounds, and strangers can be traumatic.

  • We can offer suggested appointment times when the office is quieter and calmer to cut down on stimulation.
  • Some of our offices have a separate side entrance you and your child can enter through. This can help you go more quickly into a closed space and avoid sensory overload areas and contact with other patients and their families.
  • We encourage you to bring in anything that might help your child deal with overstimulation. This might be sunglasses, earplugs or headphones, cushions to make the chair more comfortable, or an object that helps them feel calm.
  • Some children with autism feel more comfortable when they can move — which isn’t possible when they’re sitting in a dentist’s chair. Talk to your dentist about performing part of the exam or cleaning while your child is standing to relieve some anxiety.

Sedation

In extreme cases or dental emergencies, sedating your child might be the best option for keeping their teeth healthy.

Some of our offices offer sedation services for children with special needs. Call your local Children’s Choice office to ask what services they provide and to see if this is the right option for your child.

How to Help Your Special Needs Child at the Dentist

There’s a lot you can do to prepare your child for their dental cleaning before they step foot in the office:

  • Prepare them for the visit by talking about what’s going to happen.
  • Show pictures of dentists and dentist offices and read books about the dentist.
  • And don’t forget to talk to us! Provide us with your child’s medical history and any reactions to stimulation that we need to know about.
  • Tell us about your child. What would help them feel more comfortable? How can we prepare for their visit?

Communication is key after the visit as well. Tell us what worked or what we can do differently next time to make their experience better.

Not only will it help your child, but it’ll also help us better serve our other patients with special needs.

Check out more tips for helping your child feel comfortable at the dentist here >