Oral health is linked to overall health and wellness in children and adults. The health of the oral cavity affects nutrition, growth, speech, chewing, swallowing, appearance and learning. The Surgeon General estimates that children miss more than 51 million hours of school per year because of oral disease. Poor oral health affects more than just your child’s mouth and can damage other parts of your child’s body which can lead to emergency room visits, hospitalization and need for medications. The Centers For Disease Control has recognized that oral infection may affect the course of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, bacterial pneumonia, and diabetes mellitus.
- You can start cleaning your child’s gums with a soft rag wrapped around your finger, or a soft toothbrush and water before they get their first tooth. This may help to decrease oral sensitivity.
- Using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste you should brush your child’s teeth two to three times a day and floss once a day. Remember to brush all surfaces of the teeth and the tongue. The best time to brush teeth is after eating, taking sugary medications, and before bed.
- Children who are under two years of age should use a dab of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice and over 2 years of age should use a pea sized amount.
- If your child does not spit or toothpaste causes gagging, try brushing the teeth by wetting the toothbrush with a small amount of over-the-counter fluoride mouth rinse (such as act) instead.
- Children should see a dentist as soon as they have a tooth or by their first birthday. You may have to speak with your general dentist, other professionals or friends to find a dentist who works with young children or children with special health care needs.
- Speak with the dentist and staff prior to the visit about the particular health care need your child has. Share with the dentist and staff what works when you are providing daily care at home.
- Take items that calm your child, such as a favorite toy or music to the Dentist’s office.
- Children with special health care needs often are given medications that cause a change in the oral cavity. A variety of medications can cause dry mouth. The most common medications include antihistamines, decongestants, high blood pressure medications, anti-diarrhea medication, muscle relaxants, drugs for incontinence, and drugs used to treat depression and anxiety. Dry mouth can be treated using medications, artificial saliva, or by making lifestyle changes such as chewing sugar free gum or taking frequent small sips of water.
- Sugary medications taken orally can cause increased cavities and periodontal disease. Strategies to combat the effects of sugary medication in the oral cavity include, rinsing with water after taking the medication, frequent brushing, and asking your pharmacist about sugar free medication.
- Lastly, certain medications used to treat seizures, high blood pressure, and transplant rejection can cause gingival overgrowth. Gingival overgrowth can be controlled, but not always prevented with good oral hygiene. Treatment includes, regular dental visits, cleanings, and in some cases surgical repair.
- Bacteria can be transmitted from an adult to a child. Avoid sharing utensils that go in your mouth
- Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle. After the last feeding for the night, the teeth should be brushed or wiped clean.
- Drinking milk or juice from a training cup throughout the day can cause cavities. Limit milk and sweet drinks to mealtime and provide water between meals.
- Avoid using sugary snacks and drinks for rewards or in between meals.
- Children with special needs may require modified utensils, special seating, and an adapted environment.
- Children with special needs may have certain conditions that require extra attention. These can include dry mouth, medications containing sugar or causing negative side effects such as dry mouth or gingival overgrowth, bad breath, tooth grinding. Work with your dentist to design a plan for your child with special needs.
- If your child pockets food, be sure to inspect and clean the oral cavity following oral intake.
- If your child has GERD speak with your doctor about rinsing with water and baking soda daily to neutralize acid in the oral cavity.
Macanda Hinchey-Block, CCC-SLP
Stafford Clinic Speech Language Pathologist