A Guide to Dental Care for Children with Autism- part 2: Visiting the Dentist

Blog submitted by Samantha Litten,
Outreach Coordinator, Byte, Santa Monica, CA, USA.

Byte connects you to a network of dentists and orthodontists across the United States. Each treatment plan is reviewed and approved by the state-licensed doctor to help ensure you’re a great candidate for clear aligners before you start your journey with them. Visit them here-

Children with autism are likely to suffer many more oral health problems, including tooth decay, gum disease and dental injury, than children without autism. Many autistic kids have sensory sensitivities that make it difficult to maintain an effective oral hygiene routine. These issues may also make visits to the dentist challenging.

Parents and caregivers can do several things to make oral hygiene and dental visits easier for their autistic kids. Implementing behavioral techniques, using autism-friendly dental products, and seeking out dental professionals with specialized knowledge can all help your child with autism maintain good oral health.

Children with Autism Face Increased Oral Health Risks
Children with autism can face a handful of issues related to their oral health. Among them:

1. They may have difficulty tolerating the sensory inputs involved in brushing and flossing, leading them to skip these necessary tasks.
2. They may engage in behaviors that endanger the teeth and gums, such as head banging and gum picking.
3. There is some evidence that children with autism also prefer to eat soft, sweet foods. These types of foods often promote tooth decay. Parents may also give children with autism candies and other sweet foods as rewards for good behavior.
Because of these challenges, these kids are at greater risk of developing many different oral health conditions, including:

1. Tooth decay
2. Gum disease
3. Teeth grinding, especially at night (known as bruxism)
4. Traumatic dental injuries
5. Orthodontic problems

The combination of negative habits with the increased likelihood of gum and teeth issues as a result make bi-annual trips to the dentist more of a priority for these children

General Oral Health Tips
Daily oral hygiene tasks might be more difficult for children with autism, but they are essential for protecting their teeth and gums. Experts have developed some useful strategies to help children with autism maintain good oral health.

Lead by Example.

Let Them Gradually Take Control.

Establish a Routine.

Reward Success

Show your child how to brush and floss properly with a live demonstration. First, brush and floss your own teeth in front of them, showing them exactly what each step looks like. Then, perform those same action on them, letting them watch what you’re doing in the mirror.

Visiting the Dentist

Visiting the dentist can be stressful for children with autism. Here are a few ways to make this process easier for both you and your child.

1. Explain What Will Happen in Advance

Children with autism do better in unfamiliar situations when they know what to expect. Sit your child down and explain what happens at the dentist. If you aren’t sure if you’ve covered every step of the process, ask your dentist for guidance.

2.Practice Desensitization

Dentists’ offices are full of new sights, sounds, and smells that children with autism may find overwhelming at first. Desensitization can help them get used to this environment. Have your child practice sitting in the dentist’s chair quietly for a few minutes before their appointment begins. Then have them sit with their mouth open for a while. Gradually work up to having the dentist work inside their mouth. Some dentists offer special desensitization appointments to make this process easier for parents.

3. Go to the Same Dentist Each Time

Going to the same dentist for every dental visit gives your child a chance to get used to that office environment and the staff who work there. Over time, they will likely become more comfortable in that location and may not find visits as challenging as they did at first.

4.Bring Comfort Objects

Children with autism can often be soothed by comfort objects like a favorite stuffed toy, a weighted blanket, or a piece of moldable putty. Bring one of your child’s favorite items to the dentist with them and offer it to them while they are sitting in the chair. For safety reasons, be sure to remind them that they must keep this item on their lap and away from their face while the dentist is working.

5.Use Reinforcement Rewards

Try offering your child a sticker, pencil, craft item, special meal, or other small incentive after a successful trip to the dentist’s office. If your child is very resistant to dental visits, you can break the visit down into steps with a separate reward for each one.

6. Dentists with Special Training

Some dentists receive special training to help them better serve patients with autism. They will then advertise the certifications they received by successfully completing this training to let parents know that their practice is autism-friendly.

For instance, a dental office can become a Certified Autism Center by completing coursework from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.

When a dental office holds this certification, it means that their staff have been given additional training on topics like:

●How autism affects their patients
●How to be empathetic to this population’s needs
●How to accommodate those needs with specific tools and strategies
●If your child is having a very difficult time with routine dental visits, consider taking them to an office with staff who hold some sort of autism-related credentials. These professionals may be better equipped to meet your child’s needs.

Author- Samantha Litten
Outreach Coordinator
1556 20th Street, Suite A

Santa Monica, CA 90404

Reviewed by Dr.Jay Khorsandi DDS

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

Featured Artwork by CreativeSaathi associate Vinayak Raj

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