Developing Healthy Dental Habits in Children with Special Needs

Helping your child develop a dental hygiene routine can be complicated if other medical conditions are present. Dental care is the most common unmet need among children with special needs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In honor of Children’s Dental Health Month, Richard Mungo, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist and chair of pediatric dentistry at CHOC, offers tips on dental health to parents of children with special needs.

Mungo, Richard

“The most important thing for parents to remember is that dental health is an essential part of their child’s overall health,” Mungo says. “It’s not something extra. It’s an essential part of their overall wellbeing.”

Children with special needs can have a higher incidence of cavities and oral problems because it’s harder to brush their teeth, says Mungo. Cavities are bacterial infections that if left untreated could spread to other parts of the body that may already be compromised by preexisting conditions.

Introducing Children to the Dentist

Children with special needs may experience extra levels of anxiousness related to visiting the dentist. Mungo encourages parents to help in desensitizing patients to the new environment:

  • Bring a favorite toy, or an iPad and headphones to make your child feel comfortable and remind them of home
  • Schedule appointments at the part of the day when your child feels best.
  • In scheduling, attempt to have the same exam room and personnel available for each appointment to create a comfortable pattern and sense of routine

Finding the Right Pediatric Dentist

Your child’s pediatrician is a good source for recommendations on pediatric dentists who work with children with special needs, says Mungo. The pediatric dental staff can help you create a daily dental care routine that is specifically tailored to your child, including the right type of adaptive toothbrush that meets their needs.  Healthy Smiles of OC, in partnership with CHOC, is another resource. Funded in part by the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, Healthy Smiles is working with community pediatricians, pediatric dentists and schools to bring dental treatment, education and preventative care to the medically underserved community.