Autism and Dental Care
April is National Autism Awareness Month!
Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disability that impacts 1 out of every 68 children in the United States. It is diagnosed four times more often in boys than girls. Autism impacts the normal development of the brain resulting in difficulties with communication, social interactions, and sensory processing. There is no cure for autism, but symptoms can often be improved with early intervention and treatment.
Why Special Needs Dental Care is Important
As with all kids, dental care is important for children with autism. Since autism symptoms vary greatly from person to person, it’s important for parents and dentists to work together as a team. Some individuals with autism and other special needs have over-sensitivity to sounds, smells, sights, and tastes. Others become upset with minor changes in routine and/or new environments. Others prefer to avoid eye contact and physical touch. These unique challenges can make effective dental care difficult.
Autism Speaks provides a great dental guide for parents of children with autism. Below are some techniques to try at home:
- Help to desensitize brushing by touching the toothbrush to your child’s lips.
- Demonstrate or model proper brushing on your own teeth.
- Practice opening and closing the mouth.
- Stand behind your child to brush.
- Practice brushing in a comfortable/safe place (bedroom, living room, etc).
- Use a timer to indicate when the task is complete.
- Create a step-by-step photo checklist for brushing and flossing.
- Schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist by age one.
- Meet with the dentist prior to the first visit to discuss unique challenges or triggers.
- Consider desensitization visits at the dental office prior to the first check-up.
Pediatric dentists are happy to treat children with autism! They undergo additional training after dental school to learn more effective ways to communicate and treat children. The office environment can be adjusted to help meet the needs of children with special sensory or communication needs. Here are a few of the ways we can modify a visit:
- Dim office lights.
- Turn down loud noises, turn off unnecessary sounds.
- Show instruments prior to use.
- Allow kids to touch instruments prior to use.
- Provide clear verbal instructions and/or a picture checklist.
- Utilize weighted blankets or a lead apron during treatment.
- Offer flavor-free polishing paste.
- Remove clutter or visual distractions.
- Provide shorter, more frequent appointments to establish routine.
- Offer rewards and positive reinforcement.
Dr. Laura Juntgen is a board-certified pediatric dentist and owner of Hamilton County Pediatric Dentistry. Please contact our office if you would like to schedule a “meet and greet” with Dr. Juntgen! She would be happy to discuss any concerns or special requests to make your child’s first visit amazing!