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Children with autism need special care to ensure oral health

April is recognized in the United States as National Autism Awareness Month. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that Autism affects 1 in every 88 births in the United States. Each year since the 1970s, the Autism Society has been celebrating this month to raise awareness and educate the public about autism and the issues within the autism community.

Maintaining optimal oral health is essential to good overall health. Unfortunately, many people fail to realize that their teeth and gums share tissue, nerves and blood with other parts of the body. Those who are afflicted with autism may or may not be tending to their teeth, or may lack the physical ability, mental capacity, or emotional wherewithal to do so. Left untreated, these patients are susceptible to tooth decay, gingivitis, periodontitis, and a myriad of complications that can eventually result from inadequate oral hygiene, including potential fatality.

According to the National Museum of Dentistry, children with special needs are twice as likely to have unmet oral health care needs than their peers without special needs and therefore must maintain a proper regimen to address their oral health.

Here are some tips for parents of children with autism, to make sure they are receiving the best and most comfortable dental care possible .


Do

Do schedule dental appointments early in advance

Because dental treatment of those with autism may require additional appointment time, staff attendance and office preparation, parents must see to it that dental appointments are made regularly and as far in advance as possible.

Here’s a helpful tip: For your child’s first dental appointment, call ahead and request that the registration forms be sent to you at home by mail or email. This way you can fill them out ahead of time and when you arrive at your child’s first dental appointment, all of your attention can be given to your child and you won’t spend valuable time filling out forms.

Do stay with your child during the appointment

Parents and caregivers should be present during dental treatments. This can have a calming effect on the patient, as well as to support the dental team if needed. Consider holding your child’s hand or speaking to them while the dentist is working with them. Your voice could provide a sense of comfort and safety.

Do visit the dentist for fun

Bring your child on a non-treatment trip to the dentist. Make it a fun visit. Meet the doctor and the staff, and don’t forget to make a stop at the treasure chest. The next treatment visit will be that much easier.

In addition, talk to your child about the dental office experience. Tell them how the dentist will seat them in a chair, which turns into a couch.The dentist will count their teeth, show them how to brush and even take pictures with x-rays. Brush your child’s teeth for them at home so they become used to the feeling of having fingers and instruments in their mouth. This way, they won’t be afraid when the dentist does the same at the office.

Do consider music and movies to keep your child occupied

While in the dentist chair, your child will feel more at ease by staying busy. Whether it is through watching a television show, a movie on an iPad or even listening to the radio. Noises and visuals will help your child feel relaxed and more comfortable.

Do ask your dentist what options they offer to make patients comfortable

Communication with the dental professional is the key to overcoming the fear of going to the dentist. If you child is in need of a dental procedure that requires an injection, the experience can be very uncomfortable and provide unnecessary stress and fear. The dental injection is by far the most painful part of any dental procedure. After all, once you’re anesthetized, the dental procedure is relatively painless.

In order to achieve an entirely stress free injection experience, ask your dentist what they offer their patients. Ask your dentist about the tools they use to make their patients feel more comfortable. It could make all the difference in your child’s oral care experience.


Don't

Do not display negativity toward visiting the dentist

Try not to transfer any of your anxious feelings about going to the dentist on to your child. If you’re excited, your child will be too! If you appear relaxed, your child will in turn feel at ease.

Consider reading books to them such as Barney Goes to the Dentist. This way they will be excited to go and not be afraid. Their excitement may even rub off on you! You should also try to make brushing fun. Let your child pick out his/her favorite colored toothbrush. Your children should learn to look forward to brushing. Turn this necessary chore into an exciting event by rewarding them each time they brush.

Do not be afraid to ask questions

If you need clarification on your child’s treatment, do not be afraid to ask your dentist or his/her staff. They are there to make your child and your experience as comfortable as possible. You might mention something that they did not know about your child which could be helpful in his/her care. For instance, if your child is a fan of a certain television show or musician, there may be a way to incorporate it into the dental session to make the experience even more comfortable.

Do not encourage poor eating habits

Teach your children about healthy eating while shopping at the grocery store. Point out foods that are tooth friendly and those that can lead to tooth decay.
Being as they are kids, sweets and candy are always of interest. Remind your children to rinse their teeth after eating candy and be sure to brush soon after. Eating chocolates rather than potato chips is better for your child’s teeth as the chocolate will wash off easier than the chips will. They get stuck in the nooks and crannies just waiting there for the bacteria to attack and cause cavities.

On Halloween, be selective with the candies you allow your children to consume. Sticky, gooey treats will remain on the teeth longer, allowing the bacteria in the mouth to produce more acids which cause cavities. Sucking on lollipops and candy canes over a long period of time keeps the mouth sugared, causing more tooth decay than a candy bar which is consumed quickly.

These choices at home will make the experience at the dentist’s office much easier and pain-free.
 

Do not neglect proper dental hygiene at home

Begin good oral hygiene habits as soon as your child’s teeth appear by gently cleaning your infant’s erupting teeth and gums after each feeding with a gauze pad soaked with water. Baby teeth are very important and prepare the way for the permanent teeth to erupt. As more teeth appear, brush your child’s teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush every morning and always before bed. Floss your child’s teeth as soon as they have enough teeth that are touching the neighboring teeth. Use modeling as a technique to teach your children how to brush. Let them watch you brush and then they can copy. Maintaining good oral hygiene at home will make dental appointments easier for your child.

Do not forget to be patient for your little patient

It’s easier said than done, but try to be as calm and collected as you can. The experience may be very frustrating, but it’s important to know that your dentist and his/her team has your child’s best interest in mind. Many of them may be parents themselves and understand your concerns first hand. Open communication and patience will provide the best care for your child.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Children with autism cannot always communicate their needs. Consider the aforementioned tips to make sure your child receives the care he or she deserves. A child’s mouth is a gateway to the rest of their body. Their teeth and gums are connected to their entire system. With April being National Autism Awareness Month, now is a great time to shed light on the importance of oral health and its impact on overall health for parents of children within and outside of this growing community.


More expert advice about Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Photo Credits: Smile For the Camera. by Flickr: ariellie calderonie; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Dr. Steven G. Goldberg, DDS, FADFEDentist and Inventor of the DentalVibe Injection Comfort System

Steven G. Goldberg, DDS, FADFE, graduated from New York University’s College of Dentistry and has been in private practice for more than two decades. In that time, he went on to build a successful general and cosmetic dental practice in Boca Rat...

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