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Oral Problems That Can Occur In Children With Down Syndrome

It's common for children with the genetic disorder Down syndrome to have dental issues that need special attention. Weakened immune systems, low muscle tone, teeth that come in late, bite problems, and an increased risk of periodontal disease are oral problems that dentists often see in patients with Down syndrome. That's why it helps to understand what dental problems may occur so that you can work with a dentist who will best meet your child's needs.

Periodontal Disease

Because individuals with Down syndrome have impaired immune systems, they are at higher risk for developing gum disease. In fact, periodontal disease is the leading oral health problem in people with Down syndrome, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. As a result, many children with periodontal disease lose the front permanent teeth by the time they reach their early teens. Shorter tooth roots, malocclusion (misaligned teeth), and side effects of medications to treat health conditions related to Down syndrome are additional factors that can lead to periodontal disease.

Low Muscle Tone

The poor muscle tone generally associated with Down syndrome can cause chewing problems and an open bite. Reduced muscle tone in the mouth muscles (including the cheeks and lips) affects the position of the tongue when chewing and swallowing. The pressure of the tongue against the teeth can force them out of alignment, causing problems with how the top and bottom teeth fit together.

While an orthodontist can prescribe braces to close the gap between your child's upper and lower teeth, good oral hygiene is essential. When kids can't chew well, more food remains on the teeth after eating, increasing the likelihood your child will get cavities.

Orthodontic Problems

Children born with Down syndrome often have bite problems where the front teeth don't come together, or the bottom teeth protrude farther out than the top teeth. Delayed tooth eruption, smaller teeth, and malformed teeth can each contribute to improper positioning of teeth.

Along with primary and permanent teeth that typically come in later than those of other children, kids with Down syndrome can have missing teeth. While spacing between teeth frequently is a problem, individuals with Down syndrome often have a large tongue or small upper jaw, which can cause teeth to crowd.

Although orthodontics can improve dental issues, braces can lead to problems with speech. For a Down syndrome child who may already have difficulties with speech, wearing a mouth appliance can make speech even harder.

Weakened Immunity

As already mention, individuals with Down syndrome have low immune systems, which increases their risk of experiencing systemic and oral infections. Since chronic upper respiratory infections are common in children with Down syndrome, nasal congestion makes it hard to breathe through the nose. Consequently, children may breathe with their mouths open.

Small nasal airways also can contribute to mouth breathing. Whatever the case, chronic mouth breathing can cause dry mouth from decreased saliva flow, oral thrush infections, and cracks and grooves in the tongue and lips. Each of these conditions can affect a child's oral health. 

For more information about your child's oral health and how these issues may be treated, contact an experienced dentist like Jeremy Archibald DDS PC,