Special Needs Children's DentistKids can often get fretful ahead of and during a dental visit, and taking a special needs child to a pediatric dentist can be particularly stressful, for both the youngster and parents. Choosing the right pediatric dentist is important for all parents but if your youngster has special needs it’s absolutely vital.

The Department of Health and Human Services says one in five households in the U.S. has at least one child with a special healthcare need.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), many dentists don’t treat children with special needs, so it can be challenging for parents to find the best dental care for their special needs youngster.

The Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) believes this situation may explain why many special needs children don’t get adequate dental care. The organization says special needs children are nearly twice as likely to have unresolved dental issues.

So, how can you ensure your special needs youngster gets the best professional oral healthcare?

Look for a Pediatric Dentist Experienced in Treating Special Needs Youngsters

Pediatric dental professionals are the dentists of choice for children with special needs. They undergo a further two years of training after dental school, during which they are taught best practices in caring for special needs youngsters. This residency program also includes training in child psychology and development.

However, some pediatric dentists put greater emphasis on caring for special needs youngsters and, as they gain more and more experience, become specialists in the field. Another point to keep in mind when choosing a pediatric dentist for your special needs child is that soft skills like a compassionate attitude are just as important as dental expertise.

A pediatric dentist who’s experienced in treating young special needs patients will work closely with you and your child to provide the foundation for them to progress into adulthood with healthy teeth and gums.

The health advantages of finding the right pediatric dentist for your special needs youngster don’t stop there. Good oral health can benefit your child’s overall well-being, helping to avoid issues such as heart disease and stroke, which have been linked to dental problems.

Importance of Preventive Dental Care

Youngsters with special needs require comprehensive preventive dental care. Green Tree Dental adds, "Prevention is a key component of their overall dental health." They can be more at risk of developing problems such as:

  • Delayed, accelerated or inconsistent tooth eruption – in youngsters with growth disorders.
  • Malocclusion – a poor fit between upper and lower teeth. This is often an issue for children with developmental problems.
  • Trauma to the mouth – when a youngster is prone to seizures or has muscles that don’t coordinate properly.

A pediatric dentist specializing in treating special needs patients can advise you on at-home oral health care to avoid common oral problems among children with special needs.

The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry defines special needs youngsters as those having chronic developmental, physical, emotional or behavioral conditions. Medical conditions that require more extensive dental care for special needs children include:

  • Down syndrome.
  • Cleft palate or lip.
  • Neurological disorders.
  • Cerebral palsy.

Gum disease and tooth decay can also be caused indirectly by a child’s defective immune system or connective tissue disorder. Many medications to treat these conditions can cause dry mouth or contain sugar, increasing the risk of cavities. Other medications can result in abnormal growth of gum tissue.

Putting Your Child at Ease

An experienced pediatric special needs dental practice will strive to put your youngster at ease in the way the dentist and their team interact with them.

The dental office itself will be especially child-friendly – a welcoming place to make youngsters with special needs feel comfortable and reassured.

The pediatric dentist will use cutting-edge technology that enables the safest, gentlest treatment for youngsters with special needs, and they will have a strong focus on preventive care.

Dentists advise parents to take children for their first dental visit by the age of 12 months, and this is particularly important for special needs youngsters.

Sedation Dentistry Options

If your child is particularly anxious, sedation dentistry can provide an effective solution to ease their fears. Depending on the condition resulting in your child’s special needs, options for sedation that may be appropriate include:

Nitrous oxide (laughing gas). This is one of the safest sedatives in dentistry. The nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen and relaxes patients within minutes, although they stay awake.

Oral conscious sedation. This can vary from minimal to moderate sedation, which is achieved by taking a pill, usually Halcion (triazolam) or Valium (diazepam).

Getting Your Youngster Ready for their Dental Appointment

Preparing your special needs child for their dental visit is key to making the appointment run as smoothly as possible. Here are a few tips.

Give your youngster a surprise reward. The American Dental Association (ADA) says you should never bribe your child to go to the dentist. Instead, be supportive and use positive language before and during the appointment to help your child stay confident about the experience, particularly if they’re on the sensitive side. After the appointment, praise your child for their good behavior, and occasionally surprise them with a treat such as a trip to the playground or a small gift.

Show your youngster photos of the practice. If it’s your child’s first visit, show them photos of the dental office and the dentist, which can usually be found on the practice’s website. This will help to familiarize them with the environment.

Set a good example. Anxiety can be unwittingly transmitted by parents to their kids. If you’re apprehensive about your own dental appointments and let it show in front of your child, they’re likely to imitate your behavior.

Play dentist at home. If your child will cooperate, try a pretend dental check-up at home, with your youngster sitting or lying down with their mouth open.

Don’t keep your child in the dark about a dental appointment. Tell your youngster well in advance about their dental visit to give them time to get used to the idea.