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Developmental Disabilities and Oral Health

Alyssa Hill Headshot
Written by
Alyssa Hill
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Lara Coseo
9 Sources Cited

How Can Disabilities Impact Oral Health?

Developmental disabilities can impact a person’s general and oral health standing. Certain disorders can impair learning, physical, language, and behavioral capabilities.

In addition, practicing good oral hygiene at home may be difficult. This can lead to serious oral health issues over time.

Dental Conditions Associated with Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities are typically life-long conditions. They make it more challenging to complete simple daily activities.

For example, a person may not be able to bathe, dress, or feed themselves independently. As a result, disabled people have a higher risk of developing oral health issues. 

Developmental disabilities that can lead to adverse oral health outcomes include:  

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a common disability when a person is born with an extra chromosome. In short, chromosomes make up your genes. Genes determine how your body develops, functions, and forms in the womb and after birth.

In most cases, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Although, a baby with Down syndrome is born with an additional copy of chromosome 21. This extra chromosome changes how a child’s body and brain develop. This causes both physical and mental challenges throughout life. 

Down syndrome impacts a person’s general health and makes it challenging to complete daily activities. Down syndrome can also affect an individual’s oral health.

They commonly develop oral health issues, such as:

Periodontal Disease (PD)

This is the most prevalent oral health issue diagnosed in patients with Down syndrome. PD is the most severe form of gum disease that results in permanent bone loss. It is caused by the long-term buildup of plaque and tartar.

Since people with Down syndrome tend to neglect oral care, this disease often spreads rapidly. Many people begin losing permanent anterior (front) teeth during their teenage years. 

Other Conditions

These include:

Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) impairs a person’s ability to talk and interact.

Children with severe autism may also have trouble cooperating in a dental office. This can make routine oral care difficult to accomplish every six months.

However, most people with mild or moderate autism can be treated normally in a dental setting. 

It is also common for those with autism to develop inconsistent at-home oral care routines. This increases the risk of cavities and other dental infections.

Lastly, certain medications taken for autism can cause generalized gingivitis (mild gum disease). 

Cystic fibrosis (CF)

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a chronic and genetic respiratory disorder that results in poor lung function. The condition is present at birth but is not considered a physical disability until the child is older.

Common symptoms of CF include coughing up mucus, frequent lung infections, and breathing difficulties. Over time, the lungs become permanently damaged. The pancreas, livers, and kidneys may be affected as well.

Additionally, an individual may experience oral health complications, such as:

  • Enamel defects like enamel opacities that appear as white spots in the middle of tooth crowns. Risk factors of opacities include dental erosion and cavities. 
  • Increased calculus (hardened plaque) buildup that results in cavities and periodontal issues. 
  • High risk for cavities due to dry mouth — a common complication of inhaled breathing treatments that treat CF.
Last updated on April 17, 2022
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 17, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  4. “Facts about Down Syndrome.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/downsyndrome.html.
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  6. Narang, A. “Oral Health and Related Factors in Cystic Fibrosis and Other Chronic Respiratory Disorders.” Archives of Disease in Childhood, vol. 88, no. 8, Jan. 2003, pp. 702–707., doi:10.1136/adc.88.8.702, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12876168/
  7. Practical Oral Care for People With Autism. www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-09/practical-oral-care-autism.pdf.
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