For children with cerebral palsy, oral health may seem secondary to more serious medical conditions. The fact is, however, that children with cerebral palsy are at risk for oral health issues that could complicate their overall health and wellbeing. For parents and caregivers, it is important to understand the importance of oral health and helping the child with cerebral palsy maintain a healthy mouth, teeth and gums.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, children with cerebral palsy are less likely to get the professional oral care that they need. One major study indicated that 40 percent of participants without cerebral palsy attended routine dental exams, while only 23.6 percent of participants with cerebral palsy had seen a dentist.
Why are Children with Cerebral Palsy at Risk for Oral Health Issues?
Cerebral palsy is not a direct cause for oral health issues, but the disorder can increase the risk of developing issues. The primary reasons why children with cerebral palsy are at risk for oral health issues include:
- Crowded or misaligned teeth
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
- Difficulty swallowing or chewing
- Inability to control facial muscles
- Excessive gagging
- Frequent seizures leading to mouth trauma
- Mouth trauma increasing risk of bacterial infections
- Difficulty or inability to actively take part in oral hygiene
As this list shows, there is a variety of risk factors that parents and caregivers can watch out for. Depending on the type and severity of cerebral palsy and the associated symptoms, assistance or modifications to oral hygiene routines may be necessary.
Oral Treatment Options for Children with Cerebral Palsy
For parents, getting oral treatment for their child with cerebral palsy can be a challenging process. There is often a great deal of fear and hesitation about dental care, especially if the child has difficulty swallowing, is bound to a wheelchair, or has seizures. Fortunately, there are many dental professionals who specialize in treating children with special needs.
Parents may find dentists, orthodontists, cosmetic surgeons, and speech pathologists specially trained to work with children with cerebral palsy or other special needs. These individuals are required to complete additional training to ensure they can meet the needs of their patients and families.
Dental professionals specializing in special needs are required to complete the following:
- Training to support children with involuntary bodily movements or “shakes”.
- Training on how to clear breathing passages successfully.
- CPR training
- Training on how to accommodate children who are wheelchair bound.
- Training on how to properly monitor breathing and vital signs.
In addition to training, there are some helpful qualifications that make dental professionals truly remarkable in their work with special needs children. These qualifications include mastering the ability to:
- establish a positive and trusting relationship with the child.
- give instructions in an understandable, friendly way.
- communicate non-verbally if needed.
- offer solutions or modifications that meet the needs of the child.
The best way to ensure that your child has the proper oral care that he or she deserves is to partner with healthcare and dental professionals who you can trust and build an ongoing relationship with. While proper oral care starts at home, these relationships will support your child’s overall wellbeing throughout his or her life.
Daily Oral Hygiene for Children with Cerebral Palsy
Developing good oral hygiene habits starts at home. As a parent, you want to help your child learn how to successfully brush, floss, rinse, and otherwise take care of his or her mouth. To help you and your child develop successful strategies, consider the following tips:
- Consult a speech pathologist, dietician, and your dentist to develop proper oral hygiene habits at home that are safe and effective.
- Purchase oral hygiene items that are easy to use, such as toothpick floss sticks or an electric toothbrush.
- Purchase toothpaste that is designed for children or adults with sensitive teeth or gums.
- Make oral hygiene habits and routines fun and use positive reinforcement during this time.
- Make sure your child is in a positive, happy state of mind when completing oral care.
- If your child refuses to use a toothbrush or floss, contact your dentist to discuss possible alternatives to traditional brushing, flossing, or rinsing.
- Start scheduling routine dental exams as early as possible so the child becomes used to the process and routine.
Oral Care Just One Part of the Puzzle
Managing the care of a child with cerebral palsy sometimes takes unique, individualized planning and customization. Because cerebral palsy affects every child differently, the strategies that work for one family may not work for you. The best way to determine what options are best for you and your child is to build relationships with a multidisciplinary team who can evaluate your situation and find solutions that will work.
Children with cerebral palsy often require care and assistance with other basic tasks of daily living, such as communication, mobility, dressing, meal preparation, and education. Oral health and hygiene is just one part of a puzzle that makes up your child and his or her needs. As you find strategies that work, the pieces of the puzzle will start to come together and your child’s overall health and care management will be simplified and successful.
Living with cerebral palsy can be challenging. To learn more about the condition, lifestyle, treatment, and support options, review Birth Injury Guide’s cerebral palsy topics. To speak with one of our birth injury attorneys, fill out our online form to schedule a free case review.