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For children with autism, even simple daily tasks can turn into complicated situations. A dentist appointment for example, can be quite the ordeal with an autistic child. For these children, going to a specialized dentist who can provide proper care can help make the process and procedures as smooth as possible.
The problem is that a dentist office is full of various stimuli. This involves things like loud noises, the various tools and instruments, as well as overall stress that going to a dentist can bring. Also, keep in the potential for meeting a large number of new people that can be a trigger for some kids. The dentist’s office can be a stressful experience for any kid, and having autism only makes that worse.
With that in mind, it’s also important for people of all ages to visit their dentist regularly. Children with autism shouldn’t be deprived of this important step toward oral and overall health.
Luckily, working with a trained dentist can make the experience smooth and pleasant for all involved. There are many special needs dentists who are happy to work with children with autism, and will take the steps necessary to help them feel comfortable from check in until walking out.
Common Dental Problems Found in Patients with Autism
In general, the dental problems that autistic patients suffer from are very similar to other patients. The biggest issues arise when a child does not receive regular dental visits and issues are allowed to progress. The longer you wait between checkups the worse issues get, so it’s important to follow the schedule recommended by your dentist.
Dental issues also stem from improper care at home. It’s important to start learning good habits such as brushing and flossing at home. Building these routines early helps contribute to good oral health later. This can be challenging with children with autism, but it’s important to follow through and make sure it’s taken seriously.
That said, those with autism are more likely to develop certain oral problems based on their behaviors. This includes things like tongue thrusting, bruxism, and hyper gag reflex. If you suspect any of these issues it’s important to visit a dentist right away to prevent them from worsening. Also, be sure to listen to your child for any complaints of pain or other oral problems.
Preparing for The Visit
When setting up your dental visit good planning is essential. Due to the nature of autism, what is considered a trigger for your child is likely to be vastly different from others. For that reason, it’s important to understand what sets your child off and plan accordingly.
The best first step is to simply call the dentist office and express your concerns over the stimuli likely to upset your child. Many dentists are happy to work with you and provide an environment that will keep your child comfortable. This includes involving the whole staff, from the receptionist to the hygienist, and making sure they understand the situation. Some additional strategies might be:
Sensory Support: Some families will give their child headphones or sunglasses to help reduce the stimuli in the office. The glasses help with the bright lights that dentists use to properly see into your mouth, while the headphones can reduce the noise from drills and other dental instruments. These ideas are specific to your child, so give some thought to the dental procedure, and what types of stimuli might be present that could upset your child.
Explain The Process: Many parents start by going through the whole process first before even going to the dental office. This is especially important with children with autism, as it can help them understand the process before going. Using visual aids can help make the process less scary. Anything to help your child understand the process can potentially put them at ease.
Show The Process On You First: Some families also let their child watch them go through an exam first. The child sits in the room while the dentist goes through the process on the parent. This can help demystify the whole process and show them how easy the whole procedure is. Many times the unknown can be scary, so removing the curtain can help make the whole process easier.
Rewards: Many children respond well to rewards systems, and many dentists offer small toys after a visit. This is good encouragement, and letting your child know about the possibility of a reward for good behavior can help nudge them in the right direction.
These are just some simple ideas of what you can do to make the process as transparent as possible. The key is to understand the types of triggers that affect your child, and plan accordingly. As mentioned, always talk to the dentist first as they may have experience in dealing with autistic children and can help make everything as easy as possible.
Tips For Parents
As always, good dental hygiene starts at home. It’s just as important to make sure that good habits like brushing and flossing are developed at home, and then supplemented by a dental visit. Setting up good habits early can help prevent issues in the long term.
Teach them Habits: As with any kid, building the core habits is important from a young age. Teach them the proper way to brush and floss, and emphasize how important is to do every night. It may seem like a losing battle at first, but over time you’ll ingrain it into them and they’ll get into the habit of doing so.
Watch Diet: Children with autism may have dietary restrictions or extreme likes/dislikes for certain foods. While it’s important to work with your child, limiting their intake of sugary drinks and foods will help their teeth overall. Also, try to avoid them falling asleep with juice or other sugary drinks which can erode enamel and pool in the mouth.
Regular Checkups: While practicing good habits at home is key, nothing substitutes for an actual dentist visit. While it can be a stressful experience, hopefully the ideas in this article can help make the appointment pleasant for all. It really is extremely important, children with autism are less likely to receive regular checkups. This contributes to an overall lower quality of oral health.
Patients With Autism
Having an autistic child can make many things in life difficult, but it doesn’t have to make going to the dentist impossible. With a little bit of planning and forethought, going to the dentist can be a pleasant experience. It’s also very important to go to dentist, so don’t delay. The longer you wait the more of problem things become, so make it a point to go for regular checkups.
What Can I Do To Help My Autistic Child at The Dentist?
It depends on a lot of the specifics of what sets of your child. The first step is to understand what sort of stimuli they respond negatively to, and then work to reduce that during the visit. For example, if loud noises set them off consider having them wear headphones during their appointment.
What Are Some Tips For Keep My Autistic Child’s Teeth Healthy?
In general, follow the same oral care tips as anyone else including regular brushing and flossing. For those with autism, it sometimes requires additional support and reinforcement in order to develop the proper habits, so stick with it. It also means going to all your scheduled appoints as nothing can quite substitute for a professional cleaning and exam.
How Can the Dentist Help Autistic Children?
Many dentists are trained to deal with children that are on the spectrum. Your best bet is to call your dentist and discuss the situation with them. Many dentists work with autistic kids, and will do all they can to help ensure the appointment is smooth and pleasant. They also typically have their entire staff trained so they can be help make the entire process comfortable.
What Sort Of Oral Issues Are Autistic Individuals More At Risk For?
In general, autistic individuals have the same risk factors as everyone else. That said, certain behavioral issues can make it difficult to develop good dental habits, as well as making it difficult to visit a dentist. This can lead to a variety of different dental issues, but is largely based on the individual. The key is encourage good behavior and habits at home, and then make sure to follow up with scheduled dental appointments.
Are all pediatric dentists able to provide dental care for special needs patients who are children?
No, not all pediatric dentists are able to provide dental care for children with special needs. Although pediatric dentists are among the most qualified to provide these services, it often takes a large amount of extra training to become a special needs dentist. Many pediatric offices employ at least one dentist who has completed this type of training.
What if my child needs more support than my local special needs pediatric dentist can provide?
Sometimes a patient requires a little more support than a local special needs pediatric dentist can offer in a dental office setting. In this case, certain dentists can provide services in a hospital setting with a more comprehensive sedation plan or a plan for restraints that are provided in the hospital.
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