A healthy mouth is important for every child, and especially for children with special health care needs. Tooth decay (cavities), the most common chronic disease in children, can cause your child pain and lead to serious health problems. Cavities can affect your child’s speech, school attendance, and self-esteem.
There’s good news. You can prevent tooth decay for your child. Proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits can keep your child’s mouth cavity free for life.
Children should visit the dentist twice a year for a routine cleaning and dental examination. Visits to the dentist can be challenging for any parent, but particularly for parents of children with special health care needs. Here are a few tips to make dental visits easier and more productive for everyone:
Talk to your dentist. Children should visit the dentist twice a year for a routine cleaning and dental examination. Talk to your dentist about your child’s needs and any special accommodations they might be able to provide. Schedule an appointment at the beginning or towards the end of the day, so the dentist will not feel rushed to get to another appointment.
Establish a routine with your dentist. As with taking care of your child’s teeth at home, having a routine with your dentist is an important way to help your child get comfortable with receiving professional oral health care. Talk to your dentist about making a brief visit before the first dental appointment so your child can meet the dentist, as well as the staff, to gain a level of comfort with them. If necessary, set up multiple visits to allow your child to become more comfortable with the dentist, staff, and environment.
Prepare your child for a dental visit. Create a social story about going to the dentist. A “social story” is a series of pictures that shows the people and the steps that take place during an activity, such as a visit to the dentist. Use pictures to show your child what the dentist’s office looks like. Review the pictures to help prepare your child for what to expect at an upcoming visit to the dental office.
Help your child cope. During the appointment, sit with your child and use various coping techniques to make sure your child feels as comfortable as possible. If possible, use the same dentist and dental hygienist at all dental visits. Use coping techniques, such as hand holding, singing a song, or holding a favorite toy to help your child through the visit. Use similar coping techniques during all visits to build your child’s comfort level. If your child prefers to wear earmuffs or sunglasses during the appointment, wear them during all appointments.
Regular dental visits and proper oral hygiene can keep your child’s mouth cavity free for life. For easy-to-understand guidance you can use to establish good oral hygiene routines, make dental visits more comfortable for your child, and to improve your child’s oral health, visit HealthyTeethHealthyKids.org.
Additional Resources for Parents
- The Maryland Office of Oral Health
- Maryland Department of Health, Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs, Resource Locator
- Maryland’s Medicaid dental program, Maryland Healthy Smiles, provides free dental care for children from birth through 20 years old and during pregnancy.
- Recommended books for children on oral health care, visiting the dentist, and general information about teeth