CEREBRAL PALSY AND ORAL HYGIENE ISSUES

​Children and adults with cerebral palsy are at an increased risk of oral health problems. While cerebral palsy does not involve any defects of the mouth, teeth or gums, other problems such as acid reflux and vomiting can lead to damage of the teeth and soft tissues in the mouth. Understanding how cerebral palsy affects oral health can help you plan for your loved one’s current and future oral health care needs.

Oral Health Risks Associated With Cerebral Palsy
Children, teens and young adults with cerebral palsy typically have weak jaw muscles. The muscles may be tight, which makes it hard to brush the teeth. Swallowing disorders are common in people with cerebral palsy, which could lead to food sitting in the mouth for an extended period of time. This promotes tooth decay. Other aspects of cerebral palsy that increase the risk of tooth decay, gingivitis and other oral health problems include:

  • Drooling
  • Lack of motor control for brushing
  • Dry mouth caused by anti-seizure medications
  • Gagging when brushing the teeth
  • Mouth and tongue sensitivity

Caring for Oral Health at Home 
A person with cerebral palsy may have a difficult time holding a toothbrush and cleaning all of the surfaces of each tooth. Drool, sensitivity and a fast gag reflex may also impede good brushing. Maneuvering dental floss could be difficult for a person with cerebral palsy. Parents or caregivers may have to handle the person’s oral hygiene needs in order to ensure that all of the teeth are cleaned every day.

Dental Treatments for People With Cerebral Palsy 
The increased risk of cavities and gingivitis in people with cerebral palsy may require additional dental treatments beyond what is usually done for a child, teenager or young adult. It is a good idea to locate a dentist who is experienced in providing care to people with special healthcare needs. Fluoride treatments and dental sealants may be recommended in order to lessen the risk of tooth decay. A prescription toothpaste may also be recommended. Working with a speech therapist for assistance with swallowing disorders could also help with the oral health care needs of a person with cerebral palsy.

Extra Dental Costs for Oral Health Care 
People with cerebral palsy may have higher oral health care costs than people without the disorder. They may need more frequent dental cleanings because of the higher risk of tooth decay. Most insurance companies only cover dental cleanings twice per year, so extra cleanings would be out of your pocket. In 2018, a dental cleaning costs $75 to $200. Cerebral palsy may also lead to misalignment of the teeth, necessitating orthodontic care. The costs of orthodontic care range from $3,000 to more than $10,000 in 2018, and that does not include any extractions or implants. Overall, the lifetime cost of oral health care for someone with cerebral palsy will be higher than the costs for people without the condition.