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Beyond Limits: Ensuring Dental Health for Special Needs Children

Taking your child to the dentist can be challenging. After all, it’s an unfamiliar setting, and dental tools can look pretty scary to young patients. However, for disabled children and their parents, a visit to the dentist comes with additional challenges.

One common example of disability in children is autism. According to the CDC, 1 in 36 children have autism spectrum disorder, and more than 26% of them are diagnosed with profound autism. Sensory sensitivities, communication barriers, and hard-to-control fear responses all contribute to an autistic child’s struggle with their dental care.

It might be tempting to delay dental care for children with disabilities, but they may have oral health needs that other children do not. Many autistic children have habits, like chewing on non-food items or grinding their teeth, that can cause tooth damage over time. And because many special needs children have difficulties communicating or are nonverbal, dental problems might not be discovered until a dentist is examining their mouth.

So, how can you make pediatric dentistry experiences easier for children with disabilities?

Experiment at home to determine your child’s preferences.

Taste and texture sensitivity can make brushing teeth an unpleasant experience for disabled or neurodivergent children. Don’t be afraid to try different types of toothbrushes and toothpaste. Your child might have a preference between soft bristles and hard ones or discover a favorite flavor of toothpaste. Unflavored or non-foaming toothpastes are also good options to try. Just remember the importance of fluoride when selecting a toothpaste for your child. 

Schedule a practice visit at a dentist’s office.

Unfamiliar environments and procedures can be a major source of anxiety for anyone. Call your dentist’s office and ask if you and your child can visit ahead of time so they can become familiar with the setting and staff before adding in the stress of the actual appointment.

Help your dentist make your child comfortable.

You probably already know the best ways to soothe and comfort your special needs child when they’re having a hard time. This might include dimming the lights, playing a favorite video, bringing along a stuffed animal or blanket they love, or simply holding their hand. Talking to dentists and hygienists about these methods can allow them to better accommodate your child’s needs.

Some pediatric dental offices, like Route 66 Children’s Dentistry, are specifically designed to make visits to the dentist less stressful for children of all abilities. Certain locations even specialize in special needs dentistry

Sedation is also an option for children with severe dental phobia, strong gag reflexes, low pain tolerance, or difficulties remaining still in the dentist’s chair. Route 66 Children’s Dentistry offices are licensed to administer in-office, conscious sedation. This not only keeps your child calm during their visit, but it can increase the level of safety during checkups, cleanings, or more extensive procedures. 

Share their other medical conditions.

Some disabilities, including autism, are often accompanied by other health conditions, particularly seizure disorders. It is vital to share this information with the dental staff so they can be prepared in the event of a seizure and avoid causing significant damage to the mouth.

Reward their bravery with their favorite things!

Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Taking your child to get a special treat or do a fun activity can show them that going to the dentist is a good thing. A trip to the playground after their appointment, a new toy, or having their favorite meal for dinner are all examples of ways you can reward your child for a job well done.

Want to know more? Talk with us about special needs dentistry.

At Route 66 Children’s Dentistry, we know the importance of providing top-tier dental care to children of all abilities. Book an appointment today with one of our skilled and compassionate dentists. 

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