Developmental Disabilities and Oral Health
Oral Health Problems:
- Tooth decay is common in people with developmental disabilities.
- Periodontal (gum) disease occurs more often and at a younger age in people with developmental disabilities. Difficulty performing effective brushing and flossing may be an obstacle to successful treatment and outcomes.
- Malocclusion occurs in many people with developmental disabilities, which can make chewing and speaking difficult and increase the risk of periodontal (gum) disease, dental caries, and oral trauma.
- Damaging oral habits such as teeth grinding and clenching, food pouching, mouth breathing, and tongue thrusting can be a problem for people with developmental disabilities.
- Oral malformations may cause enamel defects, high lip lines with dry gums, and variations in the number, size, and shape of teeth.
- Delayed tooth eruption may occur in children with developmental disabilities such as Down Syndrome. Children may not get their first baby tooth until they are 2 years old.
- Trauma and injury to the mouth from falls or accidents may occur in people with seizure disorders or cerebral palsy.
Taking care of someone with a developmental disability requires patience and skill. As a caregiver, you know this as well as anyone does. You also know how challenging it is to help that person with oral health care. It takes planning, time, and the ability to manage physical, mental, and behavioral problems. Oral care isn't always easy, but you can make it work for you and the person you help.
- Brush every day. Depending on whether the person you care for is able to brush his or her teeth, you may need to take on the job of brushing their teeth yourself, or modify the toothbrush to accommodate physical limitations to allow the person to continue brushing his or her own teeth.
- Floss regularly. Some people with developmental disabilities may find flossing a real challenge. You may need to do the flossing yourself, or obtain aids such as floss holders or floss picks.
- Visit a dentist regularly. Professional cleanings are an important part of maintaining good oral health. It may take time for the person you care for to become comfortable at the dental office. A "get-acquainted" visit with no treatment provided might help to familiarize them with the office and the exam routine before a real visit.