Previously published on Associated Content by this author.
Children with disabilities and special needs are at a higher risk of health problems. Special needs children need extra help to achieve and preserve physical health, including dental health. A clean mouth is the most essential requirement for good health. Children with special needs have enough problems without having poor health due to poor oral health adding to their other life problems.
Special needs children are those who have special requirements due to developmental, physical, emotional or behavioral conditions who need help from caregivers and associated services.
Common oral problems such as tooth decay or gum diseases put all children and adults at risk for other health problems. However, special needs children often have more oral health problems than the general population. For instance, children with disabilities may have problems with mobility, behavioral problems, neuromuscular problems, cognitive problems, gastroesophogeal reflux problems, or seizures. These problems may make it impossible for disabled children to tend to their own oral care, which puts them at risk for tooth decay, gum disease, and other health problems.
What causes oral health problems in special needs children?
Some factors of poor oral health include:
Lack of saliva– Special needs children who require help with drinking may make less saliva than children who are able to drink on their own. Saliva is very important to assist with the washing away of food particles after eating
Genetics– Some genetic disorders in young children may cause defects in the tooth enamel. Sometimes, genetics causes factors which lead to tooth loss and misalignment of teeth. The misalignment of teeth may be caused by jaws that don’t line up properly to each other.
Physical limitations– Some children have physical limitations in their mouths. For instance, a child who cannot chew or move his tongue properly may not benefit from the tongue’s natural cleaning action.
Children with poor motor skills, such as those with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or spinal cord injuries may not be able to brush and floss properly. Special needs children may not be able to complete the techniques required to give themselves proper oral care.
Special diets– Children who have difficulty swallowing or chewing may also have problems. They can be fed pureed foods, but if they cannot swallow well, the food may stick to the teeth and oral tissues; food debris left in the mouth can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
Medications– Children using medications, especially sweet medications, may be at risk for tooth decay. For instance, a few anti-seizure medications can result in tooth decay, as well as bleeding and swelling of the gums.
It is possible to spread germs to your children’s mouth, so remember never place anything from your mouth into your child’s mouth. As a parent of a special needs child, you will be responsible for helping the child brush his teeth. Your special needs child may not be able to assist at all in oral care, so it would be your responsibility to provide him with the care he needs.
Never leave your special needs child (or any child) lying down with a bottle, or propped with a bottle. Milk, formula or any other liquid, other than water, can collect in the mouth of a resting child and cause bacteria to form in the mouth. Aside from that, there is a risk of aspiration when the child is lying down with a bottle.
Another thing to remember is that good nutrition is good for the mouth and the body, and poor nutrition can be detrimental to them. Soda, candy, sweet drinks and other concentrated sweet foods may cause cavities.