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Autism creates many challenges, but most of these challenges are overcome with knowledge and flexibility. Dental care is no exception.
If you or your child is on the autism spectrum, there are several things you can do to make dental treatments easier for everyone involved.
People with autism experience anxiety before and during dental visits. Dental anxiety is common for all people, but for someone with autism, it’s especially difficult.
Investing time and effort into making a dental visit as comfortable as possible for someone with autism makes the experience easier on everyone. It also reduces the risk of dental health problems.
Yes. Children with autism face all of the same dental health risks as children without autism.
However, because routine dental visits can be more challenging for children on the spectrum, their risk of developing dental issues is higher.
Most of these issues aren’t because autism causes someone to have dental problems. However, if the disorder interferes with someone’s ability to get proper dental care, problems are more likely to arise.
Additionally, children with autism tend to struggle to keep up with at-home dental care.
Certain dental health issues do occur at a higher rate in children with autism. These aren’t related to routine dental care.
For example, children on the spectrum have a higher risk of:
Children with autism who struggle with communication might be in pain and are unable to communicate the pain to adults. This leads to the advancement of dental health issues that would have otherwise been noticed when a non-autistic child expressed discomfort.
No matter how challenging it might be, children with autism must undergo routine dental visits.
Having a plan and taking steps to make the experience as comfortable as possible makes it easier for everyone involved. It also increases the likelihood that dental health issues will be identified and treated early.
One of the best ways to introduce a child with autism to the dentist is to take them with you to your appointment. This allows them to think of the dentist’s office as a friendly and welcoming place before they undergo an exam.
Visiting a dentist who has experience working with children with autism makes it easier for both child and parent.
Patients with autism feel overwhelmed by all of the sights, sounds, and noises in the dentist’s office. Finding a dentist who understands these fears means they are prepared to introduce these things to your child.
Many dentists do not have experience and/or do not feel comfortable working with children with autism. This is expected to change in the future as more dental programs begin offering instruction on how to work with patients with varying needs.
If you’re already working with a dentist you like, ask if they have experience working with patients with autism. Your current family dentist might be able to see your child, as well as everyone else in your family.
If your current dentist cannot provide care, they might be able to refer you to a dentist who has experience with additional needs patients. Special needs dentists undergo an additional three years of training.
If you have a special needs dentist in your area accepting new patients, he or she is the best option for providing your child with dental care.
Other ways to find the right dentist for your autistic child:
The important thing is to find a dentist that can accommodate your child’s additional needs.
During the initial consultation, be open and honest about what your child needs and any concerns you might have about the appointment.
Also, discuss the opportunity of desensitizing your child before any treatment. This is done through several short visits to the dentist until your child is comfortable with the environment.
There are several things parents and dentists can do to make a dental exam visit successful for a child with autism.
There are several things parents can do at home to reduce the risk of dental issues for children with autism.
All children should practice good at-home dental care, but it’s especially important for children with autism who might not get professional exams as often as needed.
The best oral care practices for patients with autism include:
Your child should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time. If your child is reluctant to brush, try brushing your teeth at the same time, allow them to brush the teeth of a doll or other toy, or brush for them.
Just like adults, children should floss daily once their teeth are close enough to touch. Demonstrate flossing for your child and allow them to become familiar with the floss. If possible, floss for them and then allow them to try it.
Flossing might be a big challenge for children, especially those with autism. Be patient. The important thing is to get them comfortable with the concept of flossing.
Children do better when they know what to expect. This is especially true for children with autism. Make sure you brush at the same time every day and create a routine that is calm and fun.
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