Dental Care For Patients With Autism Spectrum Disorder
The number of children being diagnosed with autism is on the rise. Today, 1 in 68 children have ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Although dental visits for those with ASD may be challenging, oral health is very important, and there are strategies to help make dental visits easier.
What is autism?
- Autism is a developmental disorder, usually diagnosed in early childhood.
- There is no medical test for autism, and a diagnosis is made by observing behaviors.
- Autism occurs in all racial and socio-economic groups.
- ASD is five times more common in boys than in girls.
- There is no known cause of autism, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors is suspected.
- Those with autism have differences in their social and emotional interactions than those without. They may have difficulty communicating and recognizing body language or social cues. They may exhibit repetitive behaviors.
- Those with ASD often have their unique interests and strengths.
- For those on the autism spectrum, some are mildly affected and others may have significant impairments.
Those with autism may be hypersensitive to the environment around them. A dental office is a very stimulating place, with bright lights, unfamiliar people, and strange noises. Some may enjoy having their teeth checked and cleaned, while others may find it very difficult.
Considerations for the first dental visit:
- An office tour before the first appointment is a good way to familiarize them with the dental office environment.
- Bringing them to a family member's dental visit can prepare them for what to expect during their visit.
- The first visits may need to be short and positive. A ride in the chair, meeting the staff, counting teeth can all be positive experiences before more invasive procedures like cleanings or fillings are done.
- Watching a video or seeing a visual schedule is a good way for parents to prepare their child for a dental office visit. This dental tool kit is available for download and is a good resource for parents. https://www.autismspeaks.ca/science-and-family-services/resources/tool-kits/dental-tool-kit1
- Using an electric toothbrush at home may familiarize them with new sensations in the mouth.
- Sunglasses and noise canceling headphones may help to make the environment less stimulating.
- A reward system may help them get through an appointment.
Making sure the dental office is aware of you or your child's special needs in advance will make sure the visit is successful.
Oral hygiene tips for at home:
- Find a toothbrush & toothpaste they like. Get them to help choose, but make sure the brush is the right size & has soft bristles.
- Use a timer. Brush for at least two minutes twice a day.
- Family members can model how they brush and floss their teeth.
- A visual schedule of photographs or illustrations of how to brush their teeth may be helpful.
- Parents will need to assist with brushing and flossing with the goal that the child will learn the skills to do it on their own.
- Praise may be given after each step.
With some preparation and patience, dental visits can become familiar and even enjoyable experiences for those with ASD. Good oral health is an important part of overall health and good oral hygiene practices, and regular dental visits will help prevent major dental issues from occurring.