Special needs children are more likely to develop oral conditions than those without special needs. The most common issue is oral hygiene, although there are some other reasons linked to specific disabilities. The children don't tend to understand the importance of taking care of their oral health. These are the most common oral conditions that dentists notice in children with special needs.
More Oral Infections
A special needs child may need to take a lot of medication that dries out the mouth. This can cause more oral infections, since there will be more bacteria in there. Saliva production is key to removing bacteria and acids from the mouth, so a dry mouth causes a major issue. Ulcers are also more common due to the lack of saliva.
As mentioned, children with special needs are also likely to forgo brushing. They don't take it seriously or don't understand why they need to do it in the first place. Food particles and plaque can be left to grow in the mouth, allowing bacteria to form. Gum disease, tooth decay, and other health problems are all more likely in a special needs child than in one without special needs.
More Developmental Issues
Dentists routinely see children with special needs suffering from discolouration and misalignments. Some children suffer from development delays either due to their disability or the medication they need to take, meaning the mouth doesn't form correctly or at the same speed as a child without special needs.
Misalignments can form due to prolonged bottle sucking. The suction pulls a child's teeth forward and is especially a problem when the mouth is forced to take the shape of the bottle or cup rather than the bottle or sippy cup working with the shape of the mouth. The muscles in the mouth become weak and distorted.
Delays in Tooth Eruption
Some disabilities like Down syndrome can cause developmental delays, which leads to eruption delays. It can take an extra two years for children with Down syndrome to see the first tooth erupt compared to a child without special needs, according to Colgate. In some cases, the teeth haven't even formed at all, so there will be gaps in the mouth. This can lead to weaknesses in the other teeth, as they're not supported.
There are other disabilities that cause overcrowding in the mouth. The mouth may be too small or there may be more teeth than there should be. Dentists will need to remove the extra teeth to help straighten the smile and prevent pain and other dental issues.
You can help your special needs children take care of their teeth. It's important to explain why brushing is so important and help create a routine that is easy to follow. Talk to your dentist about any medication side effects you're worried about and to make sure the oral health of your child is as protected as possible. While you may not be able to prevent all issues, you can do your best.
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