Madeline Stuart, acclaimed fashion model; Chris Burke, successful actor; Collette Divitto, founder of Collettey's Cookies. Each of them is accomplished in their own right—and each has Down syndrome. In October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month recognizes the achievements of people with Down syndrome overcoming incredible challenges. One such challenge, keeping their dental health on track, is something they and their families face every day.
Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder that happens when the body's cells contain an extra copy of chromosome number 21. This can cause a wide range of physical, intellectual and developmental impairments that, among other things, can contribute to dental disease and other oral health concerns.
But oral problems can be minimized, especially during childhood. Here are four ways to better manage dental care for a child with Down syndrome.
Begin dental visits early. Down syndrome patients can have physical challenges that could result in delayed tooth eruption, undersized teeth or smaller jaws that contribute to poor bite development and greater risk of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. To stay ahead of any developing issues, you should begin regular visits to the dentist no later than the child's first birthday.
Be aware of dental anxiety. Some children with Down syndrome experience significant anxiety about the clinical aspects of their care. We strive to provide a comfortable, caring environment for all patients, including those with special needs. A variety of relaxation techniques as well as sedation options may help to reduce anxiety.
Coordinate medical and dental care. Medical problems can affect dental care. Be sure, then, to keep us informed about your child's health issues. For example, heart defects are more common among those with Down syndrome, and dental patients with heart conditions may need to be treated with antibiotics before certain dental procedures to minimize the chances of infection.
Make daily hygiene easier. Daily brushing and flossing are important for everyone's dental health, but they can be difficult for someone with Down syndrome. In some cases, you may have to assist or even perform these tasks for your child. You can make oral hygiene easier by choosing toothbrushes that fit your child's level of physical ability or using special flossing devices.
The physical disabilities of those with Down syndrome fall along a wide spectrum, with some individuals needing more help than others. Tailoring their dental care to their specific needs and capabilities can help keep your child's teeth and gums healthy for the long term.
If you would like more information about providing dental care for children with disabilities, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”