According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), roughly 1 in 5 households in the United States includes at least one child with a special health care need. Despite representing a considerable percentage of the world's population, individuals with special health care needs are among one of the most neglected populations in the medical field—more specifically, in dentistry. Broadly speaking, many general dentists do not offer services to children with special health care needs. As a result, parents and caregivers of children with special health care needs may find it challenging to not only find accurate information about their child's unique needs but also to find a dentist who can provide quality care. Presumably, this is one of the reasons that dental care is identified by the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center as the leading, unmet health need among children with special health care needs.
As advocates for pediatric patients, our specialists believe in empowering families with accurate information to make informed decisions about their health needs. To this end, we have compiled a few things we feel families should know when addressing oral health in children with special health care needs.
- Pediatric Dentists are the best resource for oral health education. Just as pediatricians are trained to meet a child's medical needs, pediatric dentists are uniquely qualified to care for a child's oral health. As explained on our resource page, pediatric dentists have two to three years of specialty training after dental school to prepare them to meet the unique needs of children (including those with special health care needs). For this reason, says the AAPD, pediatric dentists are "the dental professionals of choice" for any child, but especially those with special health care needs. In addition to their specialized training, pediatric dentists are able to provide recommendations to families on adaptive aids (such as floss holders and fluoride rinses) that can help better meet each child's unique needs while simultaneously preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
- Postponing visits to the dentist can increase anxiety for your child. It's a common misconception that postponed dental visits avoid unnecessary anxiety among children with special health care needs, however, according to the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, "research shows that patients with autism do particularly well if they can see the same staff and same dentist" for their appointments. For this reason, our specialists recommend parents introduce their children to the dentist early on. This not only helps build rapport between your child and their dental team but also allows your chosen specialist time to become accustomed to your child's specific needs.
- Tooth decay is (almost) 100 percent preventable. Unlike many of the health conditions faced by patients with special health care needs, dental disease is almost completely preventable. Pediatric dentists are specially trained to identify oral health issues early on and provide a recommendation for care based on a child's unique circumstances. Though all children benefit from routine preventative care—proper brushing, flossing, and regular visits with to the dentist—children with special health care needs can benefit even more as oral health problems have the potential to exacerbate other existing medical conditions.
At Spring & Sprout, our specialists want to equip parents with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their child's care. If you have a question about your child's health care needs, please don't hesitate to contact one of our specialists.