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Why Dental Care for Your Special Needs Child Is So Important

The Short of It

According to the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center, kids with special needs aren't seeing the dentist enough, making oral health their No. 1 unmet health need.

The Lowdown

Of all the health issues special needs children face, tooth decay is mostly preventable. Although parents worry about how their special needs kids will tolerate a dental visit, putting off seeing the dentist may only complicate matters.

"It's important that parents bring their children in early so that we can be doing preventive work versus treating problems which might require uncomfortable procedures for potentially sensitive special needs children," Dr. John Hendry, a pediatric dentist in private practice in Lafayette, La., and national spokesperson of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry told

It's especially important for kids with special needs to seek regular dental checkups because developmental challenges mean kids have a greater chance for bite issues, including teeth crowding and less than ideal jaw position. And most parents of special needs kids would agree that they need more help and practice caring for their teeth.

It's recommended that kids with special needs see pediatric dentists, who are trained to care for young patients with unique challenges. Beyond dental school, pediatric dentists receive 2 to 3 years of specialized training to help them address anxiety related to dental visits. Pediatric dentists can also work with special needs children to develop methods to make them feel more comfortable during a visit, such as helping them identify comfortable ways to care for their teeth using products like floss holders and adaptive aids for toothbrushes.

The Upshot

For kids with special needs, the most important thing is finding the right dentist that both you and your child feel comfortable with. The AAPD recommends that kids visit the dentist by their first birthday or when the first tooth appears.

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