Proactive dental care is an essential part of childhood growth. But that care can be much harder for children with chronic health issues than for healthier children.
“Chronic condition” is an umbrella term for any permanent and ongoing health issue. Asthma, Down’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, congenital heart defects and many others fall under this umbrella, with varying symptoms and degrees of intensity. But they all have one common characteristic — a long-term effect on all aspects of a child’s health.
That includes the health of a child’s teeth and gums. Here, then, are a few areas where a chronic health condition could impact dental care and treatment.
Ineffective oral hygiene. Some chronic conditions like autism or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that affect behavior or cognitive skills can decrease a child’s ability or willingness to brush or floss; some conditions may also limit their physical ability to perform these tasks. Parents and caregivers may need to seek out tailored training for their child’s needs, or assist them on a regular basis.
Developmental defects. Children with chronic conditions are also more likely to have other developmental problems. For example, a child with Down, Treacher-Collins or Turner syndromes mayÂ be more likely to develop a birth defect called enamel hypoplasia in which not enough tooth enamel develops. Children with this defect must be monitored more closely and frequently for tooth decay.
Special diets and medications. A child with a chronic condition may need to eat different foods at different times as part of their treatment. But different dietary patterns like nutritional shakes or more frequent feedings to boost caloric intake can increase risk for tooth decay. Likewise, children on certain medications may develop lower saliva flow, leading to higher chance of disease. You’ll need to be more alert to the signs of tooth decay if your child is on such a diet or on certain medications, and they may need to see the dentist more often.
While many chronic conditions raise the risk of dental disease, that outcome isn’t inevitable. Working with your dentist and remaining vigilant with good hygiene practices, your special needs child can develop and maintain healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with chronic health conditions, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
When you think orthodontics, you may instantly picture braces or clear aligners worn by teenagers or adults. But there’s more to orthodontics than correcting fully developed malocclusions (poor bites). It’s also possible to intervene and potentially reduce a malocclusion’s future severity and cost well beforehand.
Known as interceptive orthodontics, these treatments help guide jaw growth in children while mouth structures are still developing and more pliable. But timing is critical: waiting until late childhood or puberty could be too late.
For example, we can influence an upper jaw developing too narrowly (which can cause erupting teeth to crowd each other) with an expander appliance placed in the roof of the mouth. The expander exerts slight, outward pressure on the upper jaw bones. Because the bones haven’t yet fused as they will later, the pressure maintains a gap between them that fills with additional bone that eventually widens the jaw.
Functional appliances like the Herbst appliance influence muscle and bone development in the jaws to eventually reshape and reposition them. The Herbst appliance utilizes a set of metal hinges connected to the top and bottom jaws; when the patient opens and closes their jaws the hinges encourage the lower jaw to move (and eventually grow) forward. If successful, it could help a patient avoid more invasive treatments like tooth extraction or jaw surgery.
Some interceptive objectives are quite simple in comparison like preserving the space created by a prematurely lost primary tooth. If a child loses a primary tooth before the incoming permanent tooth is ready to erupt, the nearby teeth can drift into the empty space. Without enough room, the permanent tooth could erupt out of position. We can hold the space with a simple loop device known as a space maintainer: usually made of acrylic or metal, the device fits between adjacent teeth and prevents them from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to come in.
Interceptive orthodontics can have a positive impact on your child’s jaw development, now and in the future. For these techniques to be effective, though, they must begin early, so be sure your child has a complete orthodontic evaluation beginning around age 7. You may be able to head off future bite problems before they happen.