People Who Require Complete Dental Care

Some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities or with special health care needs are not able to brush their teeth or floss on their own. They require the help from a caregiver. Although caregivers play a crucial role, it is important to empower patients to participate in daily dental hygiene practices. Here are a few tips:

  • Brush with an electric toothbrush for patients with disabilities for more thorough plaque removal.
  • To address low dexterity, use a thicker handle instead of the original toothbrush handle. You can also use a tennis ball or bike handle if the toothbrush handle needs to be bigger.
  • Caregivers can also practice the “hand under hand” technique when assisting the patient with brushing.

People Who Need Support with Their Dental Care

Some people with intellectual and developmental disabilities may only need to be shown how to brush and clean between their teeth. Below are dental care tips to follow:

    • Stand in front of a mirror behind the individual.
    • Allow them to brush for themselves, use positive reinforcement, and correct and/or take over when needed.
    • Announce that you’ll be taking over to help reach the hard spots, make sure to go slow for their comfort.
    • If they start feeling uncomfortable, give them a break. It is important for one to have a positive experience with dental care and force should never be used.
    • Assist with toothbrushing and flossing for special needs with involuntary movements.
    • Involuntary head movements:
      • Stand in front of a mirror, behind the special needs person.
      • Ask them if it’s okay to stabilize their head with a hand on their chin.
      • If they can hold the toothbrush, let them brush on their own, use positive reinforcement, and correct and take over when needed.

Dental Care Tips for Persons with Disabilities

A disability can affect a person’s daily activities. Some people with limited abilities need extra support with their daily oral care: Below are ways caregivers can help people with:

    • Visual impairments: Speak clearly, enunciate words, and use guiding motions when showing oral hygiene instructions.
    • Hearing impairments: Utilize visuals, still enunciate words, have writing instruments available in case they would like to write down questions for provider and/or caregiver.
    • Hand-dexterity issues:
      • Sit in a well-lit area
      • Have the patient lay their head in your lap
      • Announce step-by-step what you will be doing
      • Utilize tongue depressors as a mouth prop, if needed.

Signs of Cavities

In between your child’s routine visits to a dental provider, it is useful to perform regular visual inspections of your child’s teeth. Below are signs of cavities:

  • White and brown spots on your child’s teeth are early signs of cavities
  • Black spots, and holes in your child’s tooth are signs of moderate to severe tooth decay

Other signs to look out for that may imply your child is suffering from dental decay:

  • Trouble focusing in class
  • Avoids eating hard foods
  • Complains about pain around their face, but cannot identify where, or
  • Struggles staying asleep through the night

When signs of moderate to severe tooth decay are visible, it is wise to schedule a visit with your dental provider, to prevent the infection from spreading.

Signs of Gum Disease

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at more risk of dental disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a serious oral health condition that can damage the hard and soft tissue around the teeth.

Gum disease can range from a mild form known as gingivitis that has signs such as red, irritated gums that can bleed easily to a serious condition that causes the gums to become swollen and pull away from the teeth and form pockets that become infected known as periodontitis.

Healthy gums are firm, pale pink, and fit closely around teeth. If you have:

  • Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
  • Tender/sore gums
  • Persistent bad breath, or
  • Difficulty flossing

These are signs of gum disease, your dental provider may recommend the intervention of a deep cleaning and following that procedure, more frequent cleanings.

Signs of Periodontitis

Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease that can destroy the bone that supports your teeth. It can cause teeth to loosen or lead to tooth loss. Periodontitis is common but largely preventable. The best way to prevent periodontitis is to follow a good oral hygiene routine, which includes regular dental visits.

If you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
  • Tender/sore gums
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Difficulty flossing
  • Recession of the gums, (this is noted by visible space in between your teeth)
  • Tooth sensitivity when drinking cold water, and
  • Loosening of teeth

…make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing damage from periodontitis. Also, it is best to follow a dentist’s recommended schedule for regular dental checkups.

Signs of Recurrent Cavities or Damage to Nerve of Tooth

It is possible for new cavities to form on teeth that have previously been treated for dental decay. Signs to look out for are:

  • Pain/sensitivity to eating sugary or hot foods.
  • Lingering pain for more than 10 seconds
  • A piece of filling has broken off
  • Food or floss gets caught around a filling

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding also know as bruxism, which often happens during sleep, can be caused by stress, anxiety, sleep disorder, or an abnormal bite or teeth that are missing or crooked.

If you suffer from:

  • Sore cheek muscles
  • Sore jaw
  • Sensitive teeth

…and you notice the length of your teeth shortening, you may be grinding or clenching your teeth. Let your dental provider know of these signs so that they can provide or recommend a preventive appliance such as a night guard to protect your teeth.