Pediatric Dental Care & Chronic Health Conditions (7 FACTS)

Children with chronic health conditions need more dental care. As our little ones grow, it is extremely important to maintain proactive dental regimens. For healthy children, this is an easy task, but for kids who suffer from chronic health conditions, it can be much harder to do. A chronic condition can be anything that is a permanent and on-going health problem for the child. It is a blanket term that covers a variety of illnesses and health issues, not only for kids but adults as well. Asthma, heart defects, cystic fibrosis, Downs Syndrome, and cerebral palsy are all examples of a chronic health condition.


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Pediatric Dental Care & Chronic Health Conditions

First of all, they all have a long-term effect on every aspect of a person’s health. A child’s teeth and gum health is an important and often overlooked area that can be affected by a chronic health condition. Primary teeth are important for social development, speech, eating and normal growth and development. They are space holders for permanent teeth later in life. Their health is extremely important for all kids and even more so in special needs kids. These factors can all cause issues with dental needs in special needs kids.


Behavioral Issues

Some intellectual chronic conditions make it difficult to maintain proper oral care. Some of these conditions come with problems like a delicate gag reflex, inability to spit or swallow, toothpaste tolerance, and an inability to keep their mouth open. In many cases, a professional can help circumvent these behaviors, especially in cases of autism or a spectrum disorder. In other cases, parents will have to be more vigilant in oral care by seeing the dentist more often and putting good habits into practice.


Feeding Problems

There are a few issues in feeding children with chronic illnesses that could possibly pose a problem with tooth decay and oral hygiene. Often kids with intellectual issues or trouble swallowing will hoard food in their cheeks. It can stay there for hours or even days. This is dangerous because the child could choke on it but it also causes tooth decay, bad breath and other issues.


Inadequate Oral Hygiene

Autism, ADHD, and some other chronic health conditions can hinder a child’s ability to maintain hygiene of their own teeth properly. Parents and caregivers can seek out a professional’s help to find a way to help their child specifically tailored to them. Other families may find it necessary to brush and floss their child’s teeth for them. Some chronic disorders affect behavior which limits the child’s ability to brush and floss. Others affect physical movement and abilities. Autistic kids may need specific stimulation or individualized tactics to be able to maintain their own teeth brushing, but once this is identified, they are perfectly competent. A child with cystic fibrosis may not be able to physically brush their own teeth and need a parent’s assistance.


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Mother/Child Interaction

A mother with untreated tooth decay can pass it along to her special needs child without ever knowing what has happened. Consequently, acidogenic compounds in the mother’s mouth take sugars from the mom’s diet and change it into acid that causes cavities. These acid producing bacteria live on the teeth’s biofilm covering and are transmitted to a child by licking the pacifier, sharing food utensils, and kissing. Anyone with poor oral health who is in close contact with the child could be putting him or her at risk. This could mean a preschool worker, sibling, babysitter, or any relative.


Developmental Defects

Chronic health conditions often bring about other problems. Enamel hypoplasia is one such instance. It occurs in cases such as those with Turner Syndrome, Treacher-Collins Syndrome, and Downs Syndrome. Adequate amounts of tooth enamel do not form in such cases and those kids must be more closely monitored for tooth decay than others. Even one evening without a proper brushing can turn into a painful cavity. Often there are dietary supplements and additives that can help enamel production, but proper oral hygiene is vital in these cases.


Medications and Special Diets

A risk for tooth decay increases when certain dietary needs arise. Nutritional shakes, more frequent feeding for caloric intake, and eating specific foods at specific times can all increase the risk of tooth decay. A child’s diet is rich in carbs and offers the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Kids eat stuff like honey, sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, bread, rice, and sweets. Medications can also affect tooth decay and oral hygiene. As a result, some kids develop a low saliva flow on some medications. Hence, low saliva flow is conducive to oral diseases. Children with special needs diets and medications may need to see their dentist more often. Above all, parents should be alert to all signs of oral disease.


Special Care for Chronic Patients

Also, special needs kids require a few specific items to have proper oral health. This begins by seeing a pediatric dentist by the first birthday. Fluoride is another tool that parents can access. It is a naturally occurring compound that helps strengthen teeth by strengthening the enamel. It can also be applied topically to minimize the risk of decay. Community water is fluoridated. Rural water is not in most cases as it comes straight from the property owners well and is untreated. In those cases, a pediatric dentist can prescribe fluoride additives.


Win The Battle…

Finally, to win the battle against tooth decay, parents must first educate themselves on the disease-causing factors and how to protect their child against them. Poor dietary habits, low saliva production, and acid causing bacteria and the main problems. Furthermore, protection against tooth decay requires a balanced diet, adequate saliva and sealants, antimicrobials, and fluoride.

According to Dear Doctor Magazine, oral hygiene is the most neglected healthcare in kids with chronic diseases. Chronic health conditions definitely raise the risk of tooth decay and oral hygiene issues. That certainly does not mean it is an inevitable situation. In fact, as long as parents are vigilant in maintaining their kid’s teeth and working with their pediatric dentist, their special needs child can develop a healthy smile.

Contact us Today

For more information on caring for a special needs child’s dental health, contact Dr. Engel today.

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KinderSmiles Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics
400 Kinderkamack Rd.
Oradell, NJ 07649
Phone: 201-262-0211


Pediatric Dental Care & Chronic Health Conditions


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