If your child has special needs, you are likely immersed in an array of tasks and therapies – occupational, educational and physical. As you work to help your child make the most of her or his abilities, don’t forget your child’s smile!
“You need to care for their mouths. It is a journey. It is a process,” says Jill Lasky, DDS, a pediatric dentist who practices in Tarzana and Studio City.
Lasky, who sees many patients with special needs, reminds parents of these children to pay attention to the enticements they use to motivate their kids. “A lot of therapies involve sugary rewards,” she says. For those offering sweet treats, she offers a few suggestions. “Things that melt away are typically better than things that stick,” Lasky says. So try:
- M&M’s or chocolate kisses instead of Skittles,
- Fresh fruit instead of raisins,
- Lollipops sweetened with Xylitol instead of sugar, and
- Gum sweetened with Xylitol instead of jelly beans.
Brushing your child’s teeth daily is important, and building the habit is more important than doing a great job every time. “It’s not the quality of the brush, it’s the consistency and the repetition,” Lasky says. If your child isn’t ready for toothpaste (because he or she can’t spit it out), Lasky recommends keeping things super easy by cleaning your child’s teeth right at the table after dinner. After you clean your child’s hands and face and the table or the high-chair tray, grab a damp wash cloth and clean your child’s teeth and gums.
Another important part of good dental care is finding a dentist who can work with your child during regular checkups. Because dental visits involve lying on your back while a stranger puts her hands – or instruments that vibrate or make noise – into your mouth, they can be difficult for children with special needs. “It’s like a perfect storm,” says Lasky, who suggests seeking out a pediatric dentist who has completed two or three years of special training.
Ask the dentist:
- How much experience he or she has with children who have the same issues as your child,
- Whether there is enough support staff present to assist with your child if needed,
- Whether you can be present in the exam room to help interpret your child’s communication,
- Whether the dentist can employ sedation if needed in cases where your child is in pain, and
- Whether the dentist is available on a schedule that works with your family, at times of the day when your child is at her or his best.
Also check out the atmosphere in the dentist’s office. Make sure the environment is set up to accommodate these kids. “I set up my office with very little external stimulation,” Lasky says, because things such as music, TV or video games can be overstimulating to some kids with special needs. She arranges her office to promote soothing quiet, with stress balls and click toys for the kids to use, and adult-size chairs so that kids can even sit in parents’ laps during treatment if needed.
Finally, make sure the dentist is ready to take things slow. Lasky does what she calls “behavior modification visits,” which are brief, frequent visits to help build comfort and trust. She starts with simple things, like letting the child sit in the dental chair, and works up to visits where she can peek into the child’s mouth, and eventually examine her or his teeth.
Ultimately, you want your child to leave the dentist’s office with a smile – a healthy smile.
Learn more about Dr. Lasky’s practice at www.laskypediatricdental.com.