Good oral health habits are critical for special needs children since they contribute to their overall well-being and quality of life. When it comes to dental health, special needs children may confront particular problems, such as communication, coordination, and sensory sensitivity. As a parent, you can help prevent dental issues and enhance oral health by promoting and fostering appropriate oral hygiene practices. Good dental health habits can help your child eat, speak, and interact more easily, which can boost their self-esteem and social interactions. Furthermore, it ensures that they form lasting habits that will benefit them through their adulthood.
How do children with disabilities face oral health challenges?
- Children with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, may lack the motor skills required to comfortably use a toothbrush or sit still in a dental chair during dental checkups.
- Children with communication disorders, such as language development or speech delay, might find it difficult to communicate that they have a toothache to their parents or the Pediatric Dentist.
- Children who receive regular medical care, such as frequent medical visits or stays at the hospital, may be frightened of the dental clinic and may refuse to cooperate during visits.
- Children on special diets may be more prone to tooth decay. Soft or starchy foods (e.g., potatoes) stick to children’s teeth, allowing bacteria in the mouth to develop and cause tooth decay.
- Children who take medications that have added sugars or that make their mouths dry are more likely to develop tooth decay. Some medications have sugar added to them to improve their flavour. Saliva is essential in avoiding tooth decay. Other medications used to treat cerebral palsy or epilepsy might cause dry mouth by decreasing saliva production. Children who get medications for illnesses or conditions like allergies or asthma run the risk of developing dry mouth.
Here are a few ways you can encourage better oral hygiene habits in your child with special needs
Utilise special dental kits
There are specially made dental instruments and devices that can help your child with special needs care for their teeth. For instance, there are teaching kits regarding dental care for a child with special needs impairments. Books with images of special needs pediatric dental clinics or oral hygiene equipment can be useful to get your child familiar with the idea of brushing. Your child might also benefit from using toothbrushes with unique designs, such as a three-sided brush with soft bristles or one that makes it simpler for kids with autism to brush their teeth. Some kits may also include vibrating toothbrushes, which can assist relieve sensory pain and make brushing more fun.
Establish a daily routine
Establishing a daily schedule in which your child with special needs can take part every day, both in the morning and in the evening, might help them know what to expect. When dental care is familiar, your child with special needs will be able to accept it. A routine may help to calm anxiety or remove challenging behaviour. It is important for you to brush their teeth first. Later on, once your youngster is able to do it on their own, have them join you in brushing your teeth. For example, describe how you would assist them in brushing and how it will feel. Before you begin, demonstrate how you are planning to carry out each step. Now, follow the instructions exactly as you’ve described them.
The bathroom isn’t the only place where your child needs to brush their teeth. The kitchen or dining room, for example, may be more comfortable for them. If you’re opting for a bathroom, allow your child to sit at a table instead of standing close to a sink. Place the dental kit in a place that is easily accessible for them. When oral care becomes a consistent part of their daily routine, it becomes a natural and automated behaviour. This can lead to lifelong healthy habits that contribute to their oral health outcomes in the long run.
Brushing is a team effort
Brushing the teeth of your child with autism and teaching them excellent oral hygiene can be difficult. Yet, it’s as important as maintaining good physical and mental health. You should personalise your approach to your child’s specific requirements and talents.
A step-by-step guide for brushing your special needs child’s teeth
- Begin by wetting the toothbrush with water and applying a small amount of toothpaste (use a pea-sized amount or as recommended by your Pediatric Dentist).
- Start with your child’s back teeth. Gently brush the lower back teeth in a circular or back-and-forth motion. Use slow and gentle strokes to avoid discomfort.
- Move to the upper back teeth and brush them in the same circular or back-and-forth motion. Encourage your child to open their mouth wide to access the back teeth properly.
- Next, focus on the front teeth. Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and brush the front teeth using gentle up-and-down or circular motions.
- Don’t forget the chewing surfaces. Brush the chewing surfaces of both the upper and lower teeth by using back-and-forth or circular motions.
- Finally, brush their tongue gently to remove any bacteria or debris. Explain to your child that cleaning the tongue helps keep the mouth clean and fresh. Encourage your child to spit away the toothpaste after brushing all surfaces.
Flossing is a must
Floss reaches places a toothbrush cannot, therefore, flossing cleans teeth in places where a toothbrush cannot. Flossing is a difficult task that requires a lot of practice. All kinds of floss serve the same function. Your child may prefer one over the other or a particular variety may be easier to use. Choose the one that suits you and your child the best. Grip the floss between your index finger and thumb of each hand. Begin flossing with their lower front teeth, then move on to the upper front teeth. After that, advance to the rest of their teeth.
Create a fun mood
Engage your child with fun activities or distractions. You know your child the best, particularly their moods and reactions to others. If your special needs child is nervous about brushing their teeth or going to the dentist, be optimistic, happy, and make things as fun as possible for them. In other cases, too much excitement might have the opposite impact, especially if your youngster is already nervous, exhausted, or overwhelmed. Acting cool, quiet, and low-key could be far more successful. For example, comfort objects, such as your child’s favourite stuffed toy or a blanket, can often relax children with autism. Bring your child’s favourite item while visiting the dentist and let your child have it while they are sitting in the chair. Remind them, for their own safety, to keep this item away from their face while the dentist works.
When your child has a positive experience after completing a given activity, they are more likely to repeat it. When educating your child to care for their teeth, start by taking into account their current capacity to brush their teeth independently. If they are just acquiring this skill, putting a toothbrush in their mouth with only water on it for 30 seconds may be a good reinforcement. If your child currently brushes their teeth on their own and can do it properly, though not every day or twice a day, offer a reinforcer after each brushing.
Allow time for your child to get used to dental care. Be patient as your child comes to trust you while you work in and around their mouth. Use your speech and body to show that you care. To promote good behaviour, give positive feedback frequently.
Prepare for the dental visit in advance
Preparing your child with autism for their trip to the dentist ahead of time can be extremely beneficial in reducing their anxiety and ensuring a calm and effective appointment. Many special needs Pediatric Dentistry will allow you to schedule a tour of the setting weeks or days before your actual appointment so that your youngster feels more at ease. Before the visit, make sure to discuss your child’s specific requirements, concerns, or issues with the dentist or staff.
A visual timetable, or social story, can be very useful in preparing youngsters for their dental visit. Introduce Social Stories to your child. Dr. Yasmin’s social stories are an excellent resource that can be used to acquaint your child with the visit and its expectations. Showing your child the story each day leading up to the visit will help them feel more at ease and confident.
Always share your observations with your child’s dentist. Keep track of what happens during each visit. Discuss with your dentist what happened at the last appointment. Inform them of what worked and didn’t work. Bring a list of any medication your child is taking and any allergies that your child may have.
Choose the right Pediatric Dentist
Choosing a suitable dentist for your child with special needs is critical. Children with these issues require one-of-a-kind and compassionate care to ensure a happy dental visit. A skilled and empathetic dentist who specialises in treating children with special needs can provide the necessary adjustments, such as sensory-friendly locations and modified methods, to make a dental appointment enjoyable and safe.
Find out which autism friendly dentist near you is the greatest fit for you and your family. Don’t forget to discuss the usage of general anaesthesia with your child’s dentist.
Dr. Yasmin Kottait is one of the few Autism friendly dentists in Dubai with a diploma
in Cognitive Based Hypnotherapy and IBCCES Autism certification who offers the
most excellent dental care and the overall experience. Dr. Yasmin also specialises in the usage of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy and hypnodontics.
About Dr. Yasmin Kottait: Having dedicated 16 years of her career to spreading smiles and imparting knowledge of oral hygiene to children, Dr. Yasmin is a renowned name and face in the field of Pediatric Dentistry in Dubai. Her joyful personality and magical kid-whispering powers make dental appointments for kids an easy sail – and lots of fun, that they never miss a single dental appointment with her! Her two most recent accomplishments were receiving a cognitive-based hypnotherapy diploma from the UK, which would give her therapies the much-needed psychological depth, and an additional qualification in working with children with autism.