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How can I take care of the teeth of someone with special needs?

People of all ages may have special conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, mental retardation, Down syndrome, genetic disorders, Alzheimer's disease or arthritis. Each of these people has the same basic dental needs we all do: daily brushing and flossing, regular dental visits and a balanced diet.

Caregivers may need to provide oral hygiene assistance to people with special needs. Here are some tips:
  • Choose a well-lit, convenient location.
  • If the person is uncooperative or uncontrollable, try to calm him or her by explaining what you are about to do, or schedule the task for a time of day when the person is more rested or may be more receptive.
  • Move in a calm, slow, reassuring manner to avoid startling the person.
  • Give verbal praise and reinforce independent attempts.
  • Support the person's head, and take special care to prevent choking or gagging when the head is tilted back.
  • If the person is unable or unwilling to keep their mouth open, you can make a mouth prop by taping several tongue blades together. Discuss with your dentist how to insert a mouth prop to avoid injury to teeth.
Prevention is goal number one for special needs patients. Daily oral care in the special needs patient is as important or more so than any other patient. Frequently, these patients do not adequately clear food from the oral cavity during swallowing. Use of liquids following chewing increases clearance, but doesn't solve the issue. Brushing after meals and at bed time reduces residual food in the mouth and on teeth. An electric tooth brush is a great adjunct as it increases brushing efficiency. It may take time and training for the patient and care giver to achieve success, including use of a reclining position on a couch or bean bag chair. Use of a fluoride toothpaste, either an OTC or prescription type, reduces caries incidence. Controlling diet to avoid prolonged exposure to cavity inducing foods is a great help in preventing dental and other disease processes, such as diabetes and obesity. Routine professional care is essential and may need to occur more frequently than in other patients. Again, prevention is goal number one. If dental disease doesn't happen, then it won't require treatment.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.