Updated on February 22, 2024
6 min read

Autism & Dental Care: Guide for Patients, Parents/Caregivers, and Dentists

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How Does Autism Affect Dental Treatment?

There are many unique challenges that dentists have to consider when treating a patient with autism spectrum disorder. Oftentimes, people with autism experience anxiety before and during dental visits.

Although dental anxiety is common for all people, it can be especially difficult for people with autism. If you or your child is on the autism spectrum, try investing time and effort into making the visit as comfortable as possible.

Helping them stay calm can make the experience easier for everyone. It also reduces the risk of dental health problems. 

Are Children With Autism Prone to Dental Problems? 

Children with autism spectrum disorder face the same oral health problems as the general population. Many children are prone to tooth decay due to sweets, regardless of whether or not they’re on the spectrum.

Most of the dental issues they face aren’t directly caused by autism. However, routine dental visits can be more challenging for children on the spectrum, so their risk of developing dental issues is higher.

Additionally, children with autism struggle to keep up with at-home dental care. They may also struggle to communicate their pain to neurotypical people. This leads to advancing dental health issues that would have been noticed in a non-autistic child.

Common Dental Problems for Children with Autism

Certain dental health issues do occur more in children with autism. However, these aren’t related to routine dental care.

Gingivitis inflammation of the gums dental 3D illustration

Common dental health issues like cavities and gum disease are a concern for people with autism. Autistic children are also at a higher risk of:

  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Soft tissue trauma
  • Missing teeth
  • Gum inflammation
  • Tooth anomalies related to shape, size, and number of teeth
  • Accelerated or delayed eruption of teeth
  • Developmental defects, including lines, discoloration, and pits in the teeth

How Do I Get My Autistic Child to the Dentist? 

One of the best ways to introduce an autistic child to a dentist is to take them to your appointment. This allows them to consider the dentist’s office a friendly and welcoming place before they undergo an exam.

It’s also important to visit a pediatric dentistry specialist with experience working with autistic children. This can make it easier for everyone involved. 

Patients with autism can also feel overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds in the dentist’s office. Finding a dentist who understands sensory sensitivities can help reduce dental anxiety. 

Tips for Making Dentist Visits Successful for Your Child

There are several things parents and dentists can do to make a dental exam visit successful for a child with autism. 

For example:

  • Choose a dentist who can treat all of your child’s dental issues in one location. Visiting different offices increases anxiety.
  • Bring your child along for your routine dental visit or the routine dental visit of a sibling. This way, they can become familiar with the environment without having to undergo an exam.
  • Consider what makes your child comfortable in other stressful situations. For example, if your child is calmer when they fidget with a toy, bring it with you for the exam.
  • Be patient. Your child must receive appropriate dental care, but the visit doesn’t need to go perfectly. 
  • Consider sedation if proper dental care is impossible. Sedation dentistry is a popular option among patients of all abilities who experience extreme anxiety because of dental visits. 
  • Consider using a weighted blanket or noise-canceling headphones for children with sensory sensitivities. This can help reduce triggers and alleviate anxiety.

How to Find a Special Care Dentist 

Many dentists don’t have the experience or training to work with children with autism. If you’re already working with a dentist you like, ask if they have experience working with autistic children.

If they can’t provide dental care, they may be able to refer you to a dentist who has experience with special needs children. Dental professionals specializing in special needs often undergo rigorous training to provide care for children with autism.

Other ways to find the right dentist for your autistic child include:

  • Ask family and friends for suggestions
  • Ask your child’s pediatrician
  • Contact autism or additional needs advocacy organizations

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. 

Best Oral Care Practices for People with Autism

Parents play a vital role in maintaining their child’s oral hygiene. You can do several things at home to reduce the risk of dental issues for your child.

3d render of lower teeth being flossed with dental floss

The best oral care practices for people with autism include:

Regular Tooth Brushing

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 with them. Allow them to brush the teeth of a doll or other toy or brush for them.

It’s important to teach your child to brush their teeth properly. This can minimize damage and prevent dental problems from developing at a young age.

Use Special Toothbrushes and Toothpastes

Regular toothbrushes may be too harsh for children with autism. They may prefer a more gentle sensory experience, so consider using a soft or silicone bristles brush.

You should also use non-foaming and flavorless toothpaste. They may be overwhelmed with the taste and feel of regular toothpastes. In some cases, they might prefer child-freindly flavors like bubblegum or fruit.

Floss Regularly 

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. Try to floss for them and then allow them to try it. 

Flossing might be a big challenge for children, especially those with autism. Be patient with them; getting them comfortable with flossing is important. You can also use flavored floss if they don’t like the mint taste.

Establish a routine 

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.

Let Them Have Control

Once you’ve shown your child what to do, let them try doing one of the steps by themselves. This can help them practice and become familiar with the routine.

Be prepared to take over if needed. However, you should allow them to work towards brushing and flossing their teeth alone. 

Reward Them

When they successfully complete their routine, it’s important to reward their behavior. You can offer stickers and other rewards when they care for their teeth.

You can use a wall chart to visually represent their good behavior and goals. They’ll enjoy receiving a treat and building a record of their progress.


Children with autism may experience anxiety during dental appointments. This can interfere with dental care and increase the risk of potential dental problems.

Autistic children may find going to the dentist uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and overwhelming. Because of this, they’re more likely to have teeth-grinding habits, cavities, and gum disease.

Knowing your child’s needs is important to reduce their anxiety and prevent triggering them. You should also consider visiting a dentist who has experience with special needs children.

Last updated on February 22, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 22, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Dental Care for Children with Autism | Rush System.” www.rush.edu.
  2. Dental Tool Kit.” Autism Speaks.
  3. What Is Autism? | Autism Speaks.” Autism Speaks, 2021.
  4. Children’s Oral Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  5. Child Dental Health.” Medlineplus.gov.
  6. Appukuttan, D. “Strategies to Manage Patients with Dental Anxiety and Dental Phobia: Literature Review.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry, 2016.
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