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:
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.
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:
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.
There are several things people with ADHD can do to improve their dental health and make dental visits easier.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following resources offer information about ADHD:
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”.