Common Dental Concerns: Your child may have dental problems as a result of their health condition or from treatments, therapies or medicine that they take.  Talk with your child’s dentist and pediatrician about any questions or issues that you have.  Ask how medicine, treatment, or diet may affect your child’s oral health.

Your child’s condition may affect:

  • How their teeth and oral structures will grow.
  • How the calcium is laid down in the tooth’s enamel (the tooth’s top layer) as the teeth grow
  • How much saliva/spit your child makes in their mouth: saliva helps clear food and protects teeth.
  • How often and what your child is able to eat: soft foods and liquids do not give the teeth, gums, and muscles of the mouth the stimulation they need.  Children who use G-tubes are still at risk for cavities and may be more likely to build up tartar on their teeth, making it important to keep their teeth and gums cleaned and cared for.


Common dental concerns in children with special needs:

  • GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease):  GERD can cause your child’s mouth to be acidic which can wear down the teeth. Your dentist may prescribe pastes to help prevent teeth damage from the acid.
  • Holding food in the mouth:  Some children will hold food in their mouth or cheeks much longer than usual (this is called food pouching). This creates a good place for bacteria that cause cavities to grow.
  • Grinding (bruxism):  Your child may grind or gnash their teeth while sleeping or during the day. Over time, grinding can damage teeth. This is common and most children outgrow the habit.  Treatments are available if it becomes a problem.
  • Bad breath:  Some digestive problems, chronic sinusitis, diabetes, and certain medications may cause bad breath.
  • Dry mouth:  May be a result of your child’s condition or from medication. This can affect nutrition and can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and mouth infections. Check with your dentist and your child’s doctor for treatment ideas.
  • Delay in first teeth coming in:  This is common in children with Down syndrome.
  • Medicine can affect teeth and gums:  Liquid syrups and medicines with sugar can cause cavities. Other medicines can cause dry mouth and reduce how much saliva (spit) your child makes.  These may include: antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-GERD medicine, sedatives, and barbiturates.  Some seizure medicines may cause enlarged gums, causing them to bleed.  Help reduce the impact of medicine by rinsing or spraying your child’s mouth with water after each dose.

For more information:

  • Visit the Oklahoma Association of Community Action Agencies’ Oral Health Care Guide (includes care for children with social, cognitive, and communication disabilities, oral aversions, autism and more).
  • Tips for a Healthy Mouth.


Information based on “A Caregivers Guide to Good Oral Health for Persons with Special Needs”. Steven P Perlman, DDS, MscD, Clive Friedman, DDS, Sanford J. Fenton, DDS, MDS. Special Olympics International. 2008
Nutrition Focus for Children with Special Health Care Needs. Nutrition and Oral Health for Children. Beth Ogata, MS, RD, CD, Cristine Trahms, MS, RD, CD, FADA. Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. November/December 2003.
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