What is Autism Dental Care?
Autism Dental Care is about how to care for the teeth of your autistic relative or ward. Those who live with autism have many and differing challenges to their lives. Autism is one of those medical conditions – which up to now – we don’t know what causes it, and thus we don’t have a cure for it. Read more about it here… However, we are learning more and more about how to care for autistic people.
Autism is very much a spectrum, and people with autism will have different abilities and needs. There is a great need for more people to understand what autism is, and how to behave in situations with autistic people, especially children. Unfortunately, I have found that even social workers and health professionals need more education.
Autism Dental Care
As a dentist, I see a wide range of patients; and some of my patients are autistic (both children and adults). As with all people, regular check-ups (examinations) are recommended to detect any issues in the mouth and teeth, and to deal with them as soon as possible.
Regular dentists may not be able to treat all autistic patients, as some will be very wary of others “being in their mouths”, and this becomes even harder if there is a need for local anaesthetic or the use of a drill. Often, a referral will need to be made to a special needs dentist or the community dental service.
However, this can’t happen without regular dental check-ups.
I understand that it can be a challenge to bring an autistic relative to see the dentist. In addition to that, there are other challenges, which I mention here.
Challenges to Autism Dental Care
It is common for children with autism to clench their teeth closed as the toothbrush gets close to their mouth, or when it is in their mouths. This may pose as a challenge. Equally, getting an effective brush may be difficult. This might be because they don’t like the feel of the toothbrush on their teeth and inside their mouth. You can solve this problem by getting a soft brush with soft bristles or even an electric toothbrush – some children with autism enjoy the vibrations.
[I have found that soft bristle brushes tend to splay quickly and so expect to change it regularly].
Autistic children like routine to their daily activities and routine. So, try to make brushing the teeth as routine as possible. This can be done, by sticking to a fixed schedule or system of doing that. It might involve playing a tune that they like which can be specifically linked to this activity.
If you can capture their attention with videos, having a YouTube video which helps them to mimic brushing or “play” along, then that can be a useful tool. Here’s an example that I like:
Many autistic people struggle with sensory matters. This may be noises, visual stimuli or taste. When it comes to oral health, this may be related to having a toothpaste that is taste-neutral. Most children can’t handle the strong mint taste of most toothpastes. In this case, I recommend to try either a flavour-less toothpaste, or one which is naturally flavoured, and free from any colourings, etc. Naturally flavoured toothpaste usually have only a mild taste that can easily be rinsed away, and is often a good choice for anyone with sensitivities to strong flavours.
Here is an appropriate unflavoured alternative:
Some children also struggle with the texture of toothpaste, if it is gritty. I recommend a gel or toothpaste for kids that are designed specifically without a gritty texture. Gel toothpaste is no different than other toothpaste on the market, and they come in many different flavours.
Some children with sensory issues just don’t like the foaming that comes with some toothpastes. When brushing teeth with an autistic child, dentists may recommend a paste that doesn’t foam.
Autism dental care is an important part of the whole care for the autistic individual. It is important to help the child (or adult) with their care, if needed. This includes:
- making sure that their teeth are being brushed well and regularly. (may need special toothpaste)
- monitoring their diet for sugar and acid content, (and reducing it)
- regular dental appointments
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