Spring has sprung in Vermont and it’s a great time to make sure the whole family is up to date on dental exams and cleanings. Not only is having a healthy mouth important for speaking, learning, eating, and smiling, it’s also important for overall health. When it comes to dental health for people with disabilities there are some special considerations, but by establishing a “dental home” early in life (by the first birthday) and following a daily oral care routine, everybody can enjoy the benefits of a healthy mouth.

Special Considerations

  • Baby teeth may have delayed eruption (coming in later), with the first tooth appearing up to age two. All baby teeth are usually erupted by age five. Also, baby teeth may be lost later, usually by age 15. Delayed eruption can lead to malocclusion.
  • Malocclusion means that teeth don’t line up perfectly. It is found in most people with Down syndrome because of the delayed eruption of adult teeth and smaller size of the lower jaw. Malocclusion can make teeth harder to clean. Ask your dental team for help with different teeth cleaning ideas that will make taking care of your child’s teeth at home easier.
  • Mouth breathing is exactly what it sounds like, breathing through your mouth instead of your nose. This happens a lot for people with down syndrome because of smaller nasal passages. Mouth breathing can dry out the mouth and decrease saliva production. Saliva is important for neutralizing acid and helping to wash away bacteria; without it, the chances of getting tooth decay goes up.
  • People with Down syndrome often have a strong gag reflex due to the placement of the tongue and anxiety about oral stimulation. Sometimes scheduling an early morning appointment (before eating or drinking) can help.

Tips for your trip to the dental office

  • Talk with your child about going to the dentist using a positive tone. There are also lots of great books that can help explain what will happen at a dental visit.
  • Share with the dental office team the best way to communicate with your child and make the appointment for the time of day that works best for your child.
  • If your child has any medical concerns, including heart problems, tell the dental office before the visit.
  • Consider silver diamine fluoride (SDF) as a treatment option. SDF is a liquid medication that can help stop dental decay and pain without using needles or drills. It turns the area of decay black and may not be useful in every case, but it can be a great treatment option in certain situations. See this SDF fact sheet for more information.

Tips for homecare

  • Plaque is that white sticky stuff that builds up on teeth throughout the day. Bacteria live in plaque and when we eat food (especially food with a lot of sugar) the bacteria feed on it, break down, and produce acid which harms teeth. Keep teeth healthy by removing plaque by brushing with fluoridated toothpaste and flossing.
  • Supervise brushing; a good rule of thumb is to brush your child’s teeth until they can tie their shoelaces by themselves. It’s ideal if you can brush for a full two minutes. My daughter really liked it when I sang to her while I brushed her teeth, that can help stretch it out.
  • A lot of medications cause dry mouth (lack of saliva) and contain sugar. When possible, ask for sugar-free medications and have your child rinse with water or brush after taking medication.

For information about where to find a dentist call 211.