Updated on February 22, 2024
8 min read

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

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Key Takeaways

  • ADHD can make maintaining dental care harder because it disrupts focus, affects impulse control, and complicates healthy habits
  • People with ADHD are more likely to develop oral health problems like gum disease, cavities, and bruxism
  • ADHD can increase anxiety around visiting the dentist regularly
  • Shorter, frequent appointments or taking breaks during procedures can help people with ADHD feel more comfortable at the dental office

How Does ADHD Affect Oral Health?

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, can significantly affect a person’s oral health. While there’s no inherent risk for people with ADHD, the disorder may make it harder to maintain dental health and practice good oral hygiene.

Illustration of example of rotting teeth due to having meth mouth

The primary issues that arise with oral health in people with ADHD are:

Poor Oral Hygiene Habits

Adults or children with ADHD are less likely to spend time on oral hygiene habits due to the interruptions they experience in their attention. Oral diseases may develop over time due to the behaviors associated with ADHD, including a lack of focus and consistency.

Because of their poor oral hygiene practices, people with ADHD are more likely to have:

Dental Anxiety

Children with ADHD tend to experience higher levels of anxiety and fear during dental visits. They might also act out or “misbehave,” making routine dental treatment difficult. This can increase the risk of severe dental problems because regular visits to a dentist are essential for your oral health.

Oral Trauma

Children with ADHD who show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness are at a higher risk of dental trauma. They may take more physical risks than other children, which can lead to traumatic dental injuries. This raises their potential need for invasive or extensive dental treatment.

Diet and Nutrition

People with ADHD are more likely to consume higher amounts of sugar. Increased consumption of sugar can lead to tooth decay and other dental issues.

Medication Side Effects

Certain medications used to treat ADHD 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.

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Oral Health Tips for People with ADHD

Although ADHD presents a unique challenge to maintaining oral health, there are several things you can do to overcome it. These include:

1. Establish a Routine

Routines can be difficult for people with ADHD to establish, but they’re essential for practicing good oral hygiene habits. Most dentists recommend brushing twice a day and flossing once a day.

Keep your oral hygiene routine simple. Start with a manageable goal, such as brushing once a day. Once you’re successful at that, add on a second brushing session.

You can introduce a reward for completing your oral hygiene practices. You can also bundle brushing your teeth with another activity, such as watching your favorite show or listening to a song while you brush.

2. Talk to Your Dentist

If going to the dental office makes you anxious, talk to your dentist or dental hygienist. Many dental offices have experience with anxious patients and can take steps to alleviate your nervousness.

For instance, some dental professionals may offer specific accommodations, such as soothing scents or music in the room. You can also discuss a signal indicating when to take a break.

3. Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Another way to have a successful dentist visit is to practice stress reduction techniques before and during your appointment. Techniques for easing anxiety include:

  • Breathwork
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness exercises

4. Eat a Healthy Diet

ADHD can add a layer of challenge to eating regularly and preparing healthy meals. People with ADHD are often more likely to neglect their nutrition and eat more sugar. One way to protect your oral health status and reduce your chance of dental caries is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

5. Exercise Regularly

Exercise is good for your health on many levels, but it has a particular benefit for people with ADHD. Regular physical activity can increase dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which play a role in regulating attention. Not only that, but exercise can curb sugar cravings and lead you to build other healthy habits.

6. Educate Yourself

Learning as much as possible about dental health and oral hygiene will make you more likely to take care of yourself. Read about the effects of ADHD on oral health and how you can make a routine work for you.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that disrupts focus and impulse control. Symptoms begin in childhood and often continue into adulthood.

child psychotherapist working with little girl in office

People with ADHD struggle to focus, control impulsive behaviors, and sit still. Children with ADHD, in particular, face ongoing issues with focus and control. They may need accommodations that other children don’t to flourish and stay healthy.

Symptoms of ADHD

Everyone is different, and ADHD symptoms vary from person to person. Some people have only mild symptoms, while others struggle to function with routine tasks in daily life.

Symptoms of ADHD range from mild to severe and include:

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

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.

Tips for Parents and Caretakers

If you’re the parent or caretaker of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, there are several things you can do to make dental care easier, including:

1. Be Consistent

The most important thing is to create a consistent oral hygiene routine with clear expectations. For many children with ADHD, a tooth-brushing schedule is essential.

If your child knows they need to brush their teeth every morning and night, it eliminates a lot of anxiety and confusion. You can even brush your teeth with them to model positive habits for your child.

2. Make It Fun

Children with ADHD are more likely to stay consistent if the habit involves an element of fun. For example, you might implement a tooth brushing chart that tracks and rewards consistent at-home dental hygiene habits.

You can also let them pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste to ensure they’re more likely to use them. Provide them with highly stimulating educational material to keep them engaged.

3. Stay Patient

Your attitude around building an oral care routine makes a difference to your child. Use a gentle but firm approach that conveys confidence and helps them feel safe and supported.

Repeat instructions as often as needed until your child can brush their teeth independently. Explain the risks of neglecting healthy dental hygiene practices, including dental caries, cavities, or gum disease.

4. Choose the Right Dentist

Research the dentists in your area carefully. It’s best to choose a dentist and hygienist familiar with the needs of ADHD patients.

Some pediatric dentists may specialize in treating children with ADHD or other special needs. Consider a pre-examination visit so your child can get used to the environment and their dentist before needing dental cleaning.

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?
  • Can I do anything to make the experience easier for my child and your staff?

Tips for Dentists

Pediatric dentistry often requires special attention for different patients. You can do several things to make the experience more accessible for everyone involved.

1. Take a Patient-Centered Approach

Understanding your patient and their needs is the best way to determine the most effective way to treat them. If they or their caregiver wants to discuss their ADHD or anxieties, listen with an open mind.

Other tips for using a patient-centered approach include:

  • Keep a positive, non-judgmental attitude
  • Stay calm and relaxed when around the patient
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Practice patience and empathy
  • Expect the unexpected

2. Learn About ADHD

Familiarize yourself with common oral health conditions associated with ADHD, including a higher risk of dental caries and gum disease.

You should also understand common ADHD medications and how they might impact a dental visit. Discuss any prescriptions a patient takes before the dental visit. Dosage or timing can sometimes be adjusted for the smoothest dental appointment possible.

Additionally, some medications can interact with drugs used in dentistry. This is why getting clearance before restoration or surgical visits is essential.

3. Scheduling Appointments for Patients With ADHD

Some dentists believe that morning appointments are better for people with ADHD than later dental appointments. Pediatric dental patients diagnosed with ADHD often fare better with shorter but more frequent dental visits. It might also be easier to do shorter, 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. You may also consider two of each for four total dental appointments per year.

4. Determine Whether Sedation is Necessary

Dental sedation might be necessary when a patient’s ADHD is severe or if they are undergoing an invasive procedure. Although some people are reluctant to use oral sedation, it’s a valuable tool and soothes mental health issues like stress and anxiety. Sedation dentistry is safe, effective, and more accessible than ever.

ADHD Resource Links

The following resources offer information about ADHD:

Last updated on February 22, 2024
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
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).
  1. What Is ADHD?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.
  2. Attention Deficit Disorder Association.” ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association, 2015.
  3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2023.
  4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023.
  5. Oral Health Fact Sheet for Dental Professionals Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” University of Washington School of Dentistry, 2011.
  6. Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.” University Health Service, University of Michigan, 2023.
  7. Begnini, G et al. “Oral Health of Children and Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” International Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, National Library of Medicine, 2019.
  8. Ratey, J. “The ADHD Exercise Solution.” ADDitude, 2023.
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