If you're a parent of a child with Down syndrome, you should know that dental care is particularly important, even at an early age. While visiting the dentist can be difficult at first for any little one, children with this condition may find visits especially stressful. To some degree, this occurs because they tend to be more physically and emotionally sensitive. In this article, you'll learn about some of the ways you can help to reduce stress and encourage better oral care for your child.
Choose the Right Dental Care Team
If possible, schedule all of your appointments with a dental care team who has direct experience in treating patients with special needs. If no such office exists within your local area, consider at least seeking an office with experience in handling children with special needs. Offices that specifically market to such requirements often have specialized training, and know in advance how to handle the delicate situations that may crop up while your child is receiving care.
While all general dentists receive specialized training that focuses on handling patients with special needs, some go the extra mile to make your child's experience relaxing and less stressful. Taking the extra time to travel a bit further or waiting a bit longer in non-urgent situations is often beneficial, especially if you're trying to choose between specialized services and a normal office.
Schedule Multiple Dental Visits Rather Than Just One
Because children with Down Syndrome tend to have short attention spans and a shorter ability to tolerate physical sensations, breaking treatment up into multiple sessions is recommended. Not only does this reduce the amount of stimulation experienced on any given day, it prevents surprises. Furthermore, if your little one finds a particular aspect of the procedure difficult, there won't be any need to move on to the next aspect that day.
A single appointment might contain:
- Simple, brief physical examinations
- A more in-depth physical examination of the interior of the mouth
- Preventative treatments
- Curative treatments
- Training sessions for parents and/or children
Get to Know the Care Team First
When scheduling the first appointment with a new team, request that the first appointment be focused on just introductions and getting to know your little one. For some children with Down Syndrome, meeting new people can be a challenge all on its own. As the condition can sometimes result in inflexibility or emotional rigidity, getting your child used to the environment may even require a few sessions.
Structure Your First Dental Visit For Success
Your child should, ideally, meet every member of the care team and be shown around the areas of the office they will encounter at the next visit. For children with mild Down Syndrome, watching videos that explain the appointment process in a simple, easy-to-understand manner may also be helpful.
For best results, ask your dentist if they can show each video in the office. This will allow your child to make connections between what's happening in the video and the actual dental environment around them.
Be Aware of Unique Health Challenges Before You Visit the Dentist
While emotional and behavioral management is important whenever your child visits the dentist, it's important for you to be well-educated about potential physical health issues, too. According to the NIH, periodontal disease is one of the most common physical conditions experienced by people with Down Syndrome. It tends to occur early and frequently, even in children. Because of this, decay may occur at a more rapid rate.
Start seeing your dentist early, and schedule appointments every three months instead of the recommended six; this will help you to be aware of issues when they first occur. Additionally, check your child's mouth for sores, cankers or irritated areas regularly. Getting your little one used to gentle examinations at home will also help to make the dental office experience less stressful.
Finally, understand that your child's facial structure differs slightly from that of other children. The palate tends to be deeper, and he or she may have a more sensitive gag reflex because of this. When brushing the teeth or inspecting the mouth, use gentle touches and try to avoid reaching far back into the mouth to avoid issues.
Parenting a child with Down Syndrome comes with plenty of challenges, but it also offers many rewards. While your child may have unique needs, he or she can still benefit from good oral health care strategies. For questions about how to care for your little one's mouth from now until long into the future, contact your local dentist today. Click here for information from a local dentist's office.