About 500,000 children in the United States have a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, making it the most common childhood disability in the country. While cerebral palsy is considered a developmental disorder that primarily affects a child's muscles and their movement, it's not uncommon for children with this disability to have other health issues. These associative conditions can affect the child's vision, their digestion, and even their oral health.

Here are three common dental problems for children with cerebral palsy.

1. Bruxism (Tooth Grinding) 

Many children grind their teeth, but it is especially common for children with cerebral palsy. One study suggests the reason for this is due to poor oral-motor skills. In children with cerebral palsy, even the muscles in their face and mouth, are affected by the condition.

Bruxism is concerning as it can be detrimental to oral health in the following ways: 

  • It can cause the masseter muscles, which are important for chewing, to become enlarged
  • It can cause damage to the temporomandibular joint
  • It can cause the teeth to become worn down

Wearing a special mouth guard at night is often recommended for children who grind their teeth. For children with cerebral palsy, however, this may prove to be difficult. If bruxism is causing poor oral health, a dentist may have other treatment options for children with cerebral palsy.

2. Delayed Eruption of Permanent Molars

Most children get their permanent molars between the ages of 11 and 13 years. For children with cerebral palsy, this process is usually delayed, and for some, their permanent molars may never come through the gums. This is especially true of those who don't eat orally and have a feeding tube, instead.

While there are generally no negative consequences to these delayed eruptions, it can cause some discomfort as the molars may try to come through, but then they go back down again. A dentist may recommend over-the-counter pain medication to help alleviate the discomfort.

3. Misalignment of the Upper and Lower Teeth

Also known as malocclusion, a misalignment of the upper and lower teeth is also quite common for children with cerebral palsy. Depending on the severity, malocclusion can cause the following problems:

  • Abnormal facial appearance
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Drooling
  • Difficulties with chewing

Children generally get braces to help fix malocclusion, but for those with cerebral palsy, this is not usually recommended, as the child would most likely need to be put under anesthesia to get the braces on. If the malocclusion is severe, a dentist will recommend other forms of treatment.