Special Dentistry: Tops tips for teeth

When you have a child with additional needs, you know how important it is to take extra special care of their teeth. But sometimes that is easier said than done. 

The following post pulls together advice and resources from dentistry experts, and will hopefully ease some of the worry and make looking after your child's oral health easier to swallow.

We ask the experts for their special dentistry tips and resources

Special Care for Teeth

Natty was as cool as a cucumber about her milk teeth falling out, mostly excited about the shiny coin that the Tooth Fairy left in the pillow. Even on the occasions when the precious tooth got lost in transit between school and home, The Toothless Fairy visited regardless. 

But somewhere along the line there was a period of time when Natty didn't want to have her teeth brushed. She didn't care too much for the dentist, began to dislike the taste of certain tooth pastes and, much to my horror, needed a small superficial filling. I had to up my game.

Getting oral hygiene right for all children is a must but those with a learning disability may need some additional support to get it right. There can also be added issues of tooth grinding and erosion, so I decided to arm myself with all the dentistry resources and hacks I could to help Natty lean to look after her teeth for life.

Regular dental checks are vital

Learning Disability Nurse

I asked Craig Bell, a learning disability nurse with a special interest in dentistry, to tell us why it's so important. 
"They key to a healthy mouth begins in infancy and continues with the support of families and carers. Oral health has positive links with general health, speech development, communication, psychological wellbeing, self-esteem and social integration. To allow for this, all children must be supported to get the oral healthcare, and quality of life, they deserve."

Craig also told us about Special CareDentistry (SCD), a group who ensure that people with a learning disability are given the treatment they deserve in the right setting and by a suitably trained dentist.

Recommended Resources 

The leaflet Oral Health Care for People with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities produced by PAMIS which includes information on Bruxism (grinding teeth) and tooth erosion as well as tips on brushing techniques.

The British Society for Disability and Oral Health brings together those interested in the oral care of people with disabilities. They also run training webinars.

Colgate's page Dental Health for Children with Special Needs, covers topics such as delays in tooth eruption and missing teeth. 

Oral B's tips to encourage Good Oral Hygiene For Children.

Dentistry Professional Karen Bellis from the Bristol Dental Hospital has produced a comprehensive booklet for carers and parents of children with PMLD too. You can read A Healthy Mouth here. 

You might also find this article by Yvonne Newbold useful. It charts her son Toby's complex dental story and shows what committed teams can achieve when they work together. Our NHS Learning Disability Success Story.

Downs Side Up love Monkey Wellbeing

Our Furry Friend Monkey Wellbeing

I would also recommend a little furry friend that we at Downs Side Up are rather fond of too... Monkey Wellbeing and his Mum Helen Sadler. Monkey is a little hand puppet that comes with a range of booklets that help children through tricky times like starting school or having a blood test. 

He of course has his own fabulous resource pack all about going to the dentist that comes complete with stickers, activities and stories, all for £3.95. 
It will help you prepare, educate, reassure and support your child.

Monkey Wellbeing has a dentistry pack
to support your child

Ask the Expert

Ian Mills, Dean at the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK) and honorary associate professor at the Peninsula Dental School is also the father of a young man with Down's syndrome. 

Here we see Ian's son Keir talks at a visit to a dental clinic. It's really useful for children to watch and see what they can expect during a routine check up. Keir's teeth were all healthy and he got to choose a cool sticker at the end!

Ian says, 
"Many appointments take place in community clinic settings, but what we are working towards is inclusion within family dental practices."

Our Tops Tips for Terrific Teeth:

There are lots of ways to make toothbrushing fun and look after your smile. The whole family can have a go at some of the following ideas.
  • Encourage your child to choose a novelty toothbrush that flashes or has glitter inside the handle. Choose a fun tooth fairy pillow or box. Give them a choice between 2 or 3.
  • Some children enjoy the sensation of an electric toothbrush. Others can't bear it, but it's worth a try.
  • Make up your own toothbrushing song and sing it every night. just something simple like "Brush, brush, brush your teeth, up and down and round and round"  is enough.
  • Use a fun timer to mark the time required to brush teeth. Set it for a couple of minutes. You could use an egg timer or some toothbrushes time themselves.
  • If your child won't let you brush their teeth, try putting on a glove puppet or character bath mit before you hold the brush. They might let Monkey Wellbeing do it instead.
  • Use a visual timetable for your bathroom routine and encourage your child to remove each picture as each stage is complete. 
  • Start young and take your baby to the dentist when you go for a check up and ask the dentist to look into their mouth even before they have any teeth. It's a good routine to get into. You can buy soft fingertip brushes to get them used to the sensation.
  • Buy a book about visiting the dentist. Usbourne do one, as well as a sticker version. Read it at home and take it with you on dentist visits. There are books suitable for adults such as the Books Beyond Words publication Going to the Dentist by Sheila Hollins, Amber Qureshi and Lloyd page. 

  • Dress up and role play dentists at home. A game will help desensitise your child and remove the fear.

A 3-sided toothbrush cleans all angles of the teeth at once

Keep Going!
Finally, be gentle, be consistent and keep trying. 
And remember to cut back on sugary foods and drinks too.
With patience your child will hopefully soon know the drill!

* This post contains affiliate links for certain products.


  1. One of my twins has lost 3 teeth now and has 2 of her big ones and the other is just desperate for even one to be wobbly!

    Natty looks so proud of herself - just beautiful.

    Mich x

    1. I can imagine the tooth rivalry must be high between twins. Here's hoping for a wobble soon :)

  2. 'Toothwatch' like 'springwatch' I love it! That describes it perfectly. Just this week I was editing old photos on my computer and came across several I took just like this. a) tooth is wobbly, child is grinning widely, b) tooth is hanging on--barely, child looks vaguely excited/nervous, c) gap! Child is thrilled.

    1. Oh that is so lovely. We all do the same things with our children don't we :) xxx


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