Today we have a special guest post from dental expert Dr. Greg Grillo. You can read more about dental care in people with Down syndrome, autism, and ADHD on the Dentably website.

When it comes to dental care for people with Down syndrome, there are a lot of myths. Is it true that medications factor into tooth decay? How can nutrition play a role in health and wellness? Do people with Down syndrome have any common dental problems?

If you’re overwhelmed at the thought of finding the right dentist or dealing with dental problems, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve got over 20 years of dental experience and I have fielded all of these questions regarding people with Down syndrome. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to diet, nutrition, and cooking for preventing dental problems in people with Down syndrome.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before I get into specifics regarding nutrition and oral hygiene in people with Down syndrome, I want to address some common questions about dentistry and Down syndrome. 

Are there special concerns for sedation in people with Down syndrome and Down syndrome-associated conditions?

While complications can occur in all populations, some complications are more likely to occur in people with Down syndrome than in the general population. Being aware of these complications can prevent problems from arising.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, many infants with Down syndrome have cardiac anomalies that may require surgical intervention. Before administering anesthesia, a review of their current medical and developmental issues should be conducted, including all relevant allergies and medications. Generally, the most significant concerns that pertain to anesthesia problems in people with Down syndrome stem from issues in communication, sleep apnea, and airway size.

Woman with Down syndrome smiling

Is the reported susceptibility to gum disease related to general immune dysfunction, poor oral hygiene, or something else?

The answer to this question is, yes. There are several factors that contribute to the increased risk of gum disease and cavities in people with Down syndrome. One relevant factor is that many people with Down syndrome have weak or compromised immune systems.

Another factor is that many medications are very high in sugar, and proper precautions are not taken to prevent related problems because medication is not typically considered to be a sugary food.

And now to the final part of the gum disease equation – poor oral hygiene. In fact, many people with Down syndrome do not care for their teeth as carefully or as often as they should. It takes patience to sit still for long enough to brush, and sensory sensitivity also plays a role in poor oral hygiene. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research offers some great tips for helping to maintain healthy dental habits in people with Down syndrome.

How can you improve dental hygiene in an individual with sensory processing impairments?

One of the hardest things to do is to maintain proper oral hygiene when you’re sensitive to sensory triggers. The sensation of brushing and flossing can be terrible and could cause a person with Down syndrome to avoid proper dental care for days at a time.

If an individual wants to avoid certain sensations, you can try using a dry cloth outside of the mouth, warmer water for rinsing, and toothpaste in a smell or flavor they prefer. Have some patience and introduce them to the sensation on the outside of the face first and then the inside of the mouth when they build up a tolerance.

If a person has low tone in their muscles or mouth, then don’t worry about the proper brushing time at first. Slowly build up to the optimum length of time for brushing as they build muscle tone and strength.

For auditory sensitivities, noise cancelling headphones may help filter out the sound of electric brushes and faucets. Headphones are great for dental visits.

Nutrition and Dental Hygiene in People with Down Syndrome

One important way to help prevent dental issues in people with Down syndrome is to make sure that they have access to a balanced diet. Eating healthy food and snacks instead of sugary juices and processed foods will help maintain proper oral hygiene.

Try cooking healthy meals with them so that they can take ownership and feel accomplished when they cook. Participating in the cooking process will increase the likelihood that they will want to eat healthier foods instead of junk food.

Make sure they get a balanced diet with all the nutrients they need. Vitamins C and D, as well as calcium, phosphate, and magnesium, are all great ways to fortify bone and teeth. Proper nutrition will ensure strong teeth and a healthy bone density, which can lead to better oral hygiene and fewer problems over the lifetime.