All children encounter sickness as they grow; thankfully most of these conditions are relatively mild and fade away in short order. But some children endure more serious, longer lasting conditions. The health of children with chronic diseases can be impacted in numerous ways, including the health of their teeth and gums.
Unfortunately, dental care is often pushed to the side as caregivers understandably focus on the primary disease. In addition, many chronic conditions involving behavior, such as autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or intellectual disabilities, may inhibit the child’s ability to cooperate with or even perform daily oral hygiene. Many special needs children have an acute gag reflex that makes toleration of toothpaste, spitting matter from the mouth, or keeping their mouths open more difficult. However difficult it may be, though, it’s still important to establish daily hygiene habits to reduce the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
There are techniques for building a daily routine for children with physical and behavioral limitations. For example, using “modeling and shaping” behavior, you (or perhaps a sibling) brush your teeth with your child to demonstrate how it should be done. If there’s a problem with cooperation, you can also position the child “knee to knee” with you as you brush their teeth. In this way you’ll be able to meet their eyes at a level position and lessen the chance of a confrontation.
We encourage all children to have their first dental visit before their first birthday. This is especially true for children with chronic conditions. The Age One visit helps establish a benchmark for long-term care; it then becomes more likely with regular visits to discover and promptly treat dental disease. This is especially important for special needs children who may have congenital and developmental dental problems, like enamel hypoplasia, a condition where the teeth have not developed sufficient amounts of enamel.
Teeth are just as much at risk, if not more so, in children with chronic diseases. Establishing daily hygiene and regular checkups can reduce that risk and alleviate concern for their long-term oral health.
If you would like more information on oral healthcare for children with chronic diseases, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases.”