Report Draw Attention to Special Needs Kids, Oral Health Care

By Jenifer Dorsey

The American Academy of Pediatrics offered guidance to pediatricians regarding the oral health of children with developmental disabilities. The report published last month in Pediatrics outlines the effect poor oral health has on this population and how pediatricians can partner with dental care providers to address this problem.

“Oral Health Care for Children With Developmental Disabilities” reminds those who provide health care to children that oral health is an important component of overall health and poor oral health may contribute to systemic illness and detract from overall quality of life—the ability to sleep, eat, and function without pain.

The report goes on to say that a smile can be the most effective means for children with developmental disabilities to interact with the world. As a group, children with developmental disabilities are at the greatest risk for developing dental disease due to frequent use of medications high in sugar, impaired salivary function, liquid diets, and oral aversions, to name a few.

Difficulty accessing transportation, lack of insurance, and limited providers prevent many special needs kids from receiving oral health care. While most pediatric dentists are able to address the needs of developmentally disabled children, there are only about 5,000 pediatric dentists. An estimated 11.2 million children have special needs, according to the report. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children ages 3 to 17 with developmental disabilities has increased in recent years.

The report educates pediatricians in the problems commonly found in these children and suggests ways pediatricians can help encourage better overall health, such as recommending parents find a dental provider before the child turns 1, learning how to asses dental health in these children, providing guidance on oral hygiene, and collaborating with providers in the dental community.

Parents whose children have developmental disabilities and special needs might find this guide helpful when selecting a dentist. The Special Care Dentistry Association is another useful resource and may be contacted at 312-527-6764

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