Proactive dental care is an essential part of childhood growth. But that care can be much harder for children with chronic health issues than for healthier children.
“Chronic condition” is an umbrella term for any permanent and ongoing health issue. Asthma, Down’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart defects and many others fall under this umbrella, with varying symptoms and degrees of intensity. But they all have one common characteristic — a long-term effect on all aspects of a child’s health.
That includes the health of a child’s teeth and gums. Here, then, are a few areas where a chronic health condition could impact dental care and treatment.
Ineffective oral hygiene. Some chronic conditions like autism or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that affect behavior or cognitive skills can decrease a child’s ability or willingness to brush or floss; some conditions may also limit their physical ability to perform these tasks. Parents and caregivers may need to seek out tailored training for their child’s needs, or assist them on a regular basis.
Developmental defects. Children with chronic conditions are also more likely to have other developmental problems. For example, a child with Down, Treacher-Collins or Turner syndromes may be more likely to develop a birth defect called enamel hypoplasia in which not enough tooth enamel develops. Children with this defect must be monitored more closely and frequently for tooth decay.
Special diets and medications. A child with a chronic condition may need to eat different foods at different times as part of their treatment. But different dietary patterns like nutritional shakes or more frequent feedings to boost caloric intake can increase risk for tooth decay. Likewise, children on certain medications may develop lower saliva flow, leading to higher chance of disease. You’ll need to be more alert to the signs of tooth decay if your child is on such a diet or on certain medications, and they may need to see the dentist more often.
While many chronic conditions raise the risk of dental disease, that outcome isn’t inevitable. Working with your dentist and remaining vigilant with good hygiene practices, your special needs child can develop and maintain healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with chronic health conditions, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”