Cheer Instead of Challenge: Dental Visit Guidelines for Kids With ADHD

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If you have a child with ADHD, you have a life full of challenges. A trip to the dentist's office may seem just too much to tackle, especially if X-rays or fillings are required. However, with the right dentist and the right approach, routine cleanings and exams can be full of cheer instead of challenges.

You're not alone

Having a child with ADHD can be an isolating experience. You may feel too frustrated, embarrassed, or fatigued to schedule something that seems as overwhelming as a dental procedure. What if your kid has a meltdown or strains the patience of the office staff?

Actually, ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders. It may help to know that 6.4 million children from 4-17 years old have ADHD. Symptoms typically appear between the ages of three and six, with typical onset about seven years old. Not only are many children affected by this condition, but its prevalence is increasing; over the past eight years, there has been a 42% increase in the number of diagnoses in this country.

If anything, dentists probably understand more than you realize. They probably treat a lot of kids with ADHD or other challenges, so your child won't be their first time treating a child that isn't "normal."

Special dental considerations for children with ADHD

Although kids with ADHD don't necessarily have more cavities than those who do not have ADHD, their eating behavior puts them at greater risk for dental problems. In fact, they should have even more frequent cleanings and exams than those without the disorder. Here's why:

  • Children with the disorder are more likely to eat impulsively than kids who do not have ADHD.
  • Further, they are prone to binge eating, and the foods they binge on are often sugary, with little caloric value.
  • Kids with ADHD are less likely to observe proper oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing.
  • Medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can cause dry mouth (which predisposes kids to cavities and gum disease), inflammation of mouth tissues and salivary glands, and bruxism (teeth grinding).

As you can see, you may see a dental visit as a difficult afternoon, but it is critically important to your child's oral health.

Accommodations make visits easier

Here's the good news: dental visits don't have to be defeating! By choosing the right dentist and planning your visit in advance, your child can have a successful check-up. Here are some guidelines to follow.

  • Choose a pediatric dentist who has experience with treating kids with ADHD, as evidenced by his/her knowledge of the disorder and an established protocol for treating such children.
  • Make the dentist and office staff aware of the best way to communicate with your child. For example, does he/she respond well to touch, or is it upsetting?
  • Schedule your appointment for the morning, about 30-60 minutes after your child has taken daily medications. This seems to be the best time for focus and self-restraint.
  • Talk with your child ahead of time about what to expect. This alleviates anxiety.
  • Give your child simple, clear instructions during the appointment. Too much information is confusing and upsetting.

Following these simple guidelines can lead to a successful dental visit. Once your child has a sense of accomplishment from sitting smoothly through an exam or procedure, the next visit will be less of a hurdle to clear.

Kids with ADHD need frequent dental visits to ensure optimal oral health. By working with an understanding and experienced local pediatric dentist, you can help your son or daughter navigate those visits without meltdowns or embarrassing displays of impulsivity.