ADHD and Dental Care: Resources for Patients, Parents & Caregivers

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Medically Reviewed
by Dr. Erica Anand
Kelly Jamrozy
Written by
Kelly Jamrozy
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Evidence Based
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What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder

Symptoms begin in childhood and often continue into adulthood. People with ADHD struggle to focus, control impulsive behaviors, and sit still.

Most children occasionally struggle to focus. However, someone with ADHD faces ongoing issues with focus and control. 

Symptoms of ADHD range from mild to severe and include:

  • Squirming and fidgeting
  • Talking too much
  • Struggling to resist temptation
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Forgetting things or losing things
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Struggling to get along with others
  • Having trouble waiting their turn

There are varying degrees of ADHD. 

Some people have only mild symptoms, while others find it difficult to function in everyday life. 

It’s also possible to experience only one or a few symptoms or deal with all of them in varying degrees at the same or different times.

Everyone is different and ADHD symptoms vary from person to person. Some symptoms might also be easier to manage than others.  

How Does ADHD Affect Oral Health?

Although most people associate ADHD with struggles in school, the disorder affects many areas of a person’s life. This includes their overall health and, specifically, their dental health.

Children with ADHD tend to experience higher levels of anxiety and fear during dental visits. 

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They might act out or “misbehave,” making routine dental treatment difficult. This increases their risk of severe dental problems.

Some of the most common risks faced by those with ADHD when it comes to dental health include:

  • Higher incidence of dental caries or cavities due to poor oral hygiene 
  • Painful injuries or conditions related to neglected dental care
  • Periodontal disease and overall poor gum health
  • Greater need for invasive or extensive dental treatments
  • Stress and anxiety when visiting dental professionals for exams

Having ADHD makes it more challenging to maintain good dental health. 

However, the challenges don’t mean it’s impossible and many people with ADHD have healthy gums and teeth.

There is no inherent dental health risk for people with ADHD. People with ADHD aren’t born with a higher risk of gum disease or cavities. Instead, issues develop over time due to a lack of focus and consistency.

Maintaining good dental health is a matter of building consistent habits for dental care, just as it is for someone without ADHD. 

Certain ADHD medications change or increase appetite in some patients, increasing the risk for tooth decay. 

Many of these medications also list dry mouth as a side effect, which can cause cavities and impact plaque levels. 

Despite the challenges of ADHD, good oral health care is essential for people of all ages. 

This applies to regular oral health care, as well as routine dental visits and treatment for more significant dental health problems.

Tips for Patients with ADHD

There are several things people with ADHD can do to improve their dental health and make dental visits easier. 

For example:

  • Learn as much as possible about your dental health 
  • Keep up with routine dental care at-home
  • Bring materials or tools with you to dental appointments that ease anxiety
  • Explain your situation to your dental hygienist and dentist
  • Practice breathing exercises, meditation, or other exercises that help you relax during the visit
  • Reward yourself for dental health accomplishments
  • Be consistent with your dental care routine

Tips for Parents and Caretakers

If you’re the parent or caretaker of a child with ADHD, there are several things you can do to make dental care easier. 

The most important thing is to create a consistent routine with clear expectations. 

If your child knows they need to brush their teeth every morning and night at the same time — a lot of anxiety and confusion is eliminated.

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Other tips that can help with dental care for children with ADHD include:

  • Educate children in advance of dental visits using stimulating, colorful materials
  • Consider a pre-examination visit so the environment is familiar before treatment is needed
  • Use a gentle but firm approach that conveys confidence and helps the child feel safe
  • Repeat instructions as often as needed 
  • Maintain a consistent tooth brushing schedule at home
  • Explain the risks associated with neglecting healthy dental hygiene practices, including dental caries, cavities, or gum disease
  • Use the tell-show-do method to demonstrate good dental hygiene habits
  • Implement the use of a tooth brushing chart that tracks and rewards consistent at-home dental hygiene habits
  • Choose a dentist and hygienist familiar with the needs of ADHD patients
  • Help your child take responsibility for his or her oral hygiene status

It helps to interview a dentist in advance to ensure they understand your child’s needs and will take an ADHD-friendly approach to the exam. 

Questions that can help you evaluate a dentist’s ability to work with your child before a dental visit include:

  • Have you worked with patients with ADHD in the past? What ages?
  • Are you comfortable working with ADHD patients?
  • Do you offer any special accommodations for children with ADHD?
  • Do you need me to do anything in preparation for the exam?
  • Is there anything I can do to make the experience easier for my child and your staff?

Tips for Dentists

Pediatric dentistry often requires special attention for different patients. 

If you’re one of the tens of thousands of dental professionals working with children with ADHD, there are several things you can do to make the experience easier on everyone involved.

For example:

  • Gain an understanding of the patient
  • Take a non-judgmental attitude
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Take a calm and relaxed approach
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Praise positive reinforcement
  • Be patient
  • Show empathy
  • Be direct when speaking to the patient and the patient’s caregiver
  • Familiarize yourself with common oral health issues associated with ADHD, including a higher risk of dental caries and gum disease

It might help to discuss medications the child is taking before the dental visit with the child’s parents or health care professionals before the exam. 

In some cases, dosage and/or timing can be adjusted to make for the smoothest oral health visit possible. 

Some medications can interact with drugs used in dentistry. This is why it’s important to get clearance prior to any restoration or surgical visits. 

Dental procedures can be stressful for anyone, but they are especially challenging for children with ADHD. Pediatric dental patients worried about their upcoming visit or stressed during an examination or procedure benefit from proper planning.

Scheduling Appointments for Patients With ADHD

Some dentists treating children with ADHD believe that morning appointments tend to go better than those scheduled for later in the day. It might also be easier to do less during more frequent treatments.

For example, instead of two dental practice visits for basic dental cleanings per year, you can divide these appointments into two sessions within a week or two of each for four total appointments per year. 

Pediatric dental patients diagnosed with ADHD often fare better with shorter, but more frequent dental visits.

When is Sedation Necessary?

In some cases, when a patient’s ADHD is severe and/or they are undergoing an invasive dental health procedure, sedation might be necessary. 

Although some people are reluctant to use sedation, it’s a useful tool and soothes mental health issues like stress and anxiety. Sedation dentistry is safe, effective, and easier than ever to find.

Poor oral hygiene is a risk for anyone who neglects their dental care. 

Regular dentist visits and at-home dental care are essential for maintaining good oral health. 

A person’s oral health also affects their overall health. Whether you’re working with children with ADHD or you have ADHD, it’s important to make dental care a priority.

ADHD Resource Links

The following resources offer information about ADHD:

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What Is ADHD?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 19 Sept. 2018.

Admin. “ADDA - Attention Deficit Disorder Association.” ADDA - Attention Deficit Disorder Association, 2015.

NIMH» Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Www.nimh.nih.gov.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) | MentalHealth.gov.” Mentalhealth.gov, 2017.

University of Washington School of Dentistry. “Oral Health Fact Sheet for Dental Professionals Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”. 

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) | University Health Service.” Uhs.umich.edu.

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