Autism And Oral Health Care

Helping parents with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It can be a challenge for any parent, to encourage their children to see a dentist on a regular basis. For parents of autistic children though, the challenge can be even greater.

The sensory overload of sounds and smells that children encounter when they enter the dental environment can be particularly challenging for autistic children, and especially when combined with an unpredictable outcome of the visit, i.e. will they need treatment or not.

Unfortunately, these difficulties sometimes mean that children with autism have rather poor oral health in general and may even eventually require hospital treatment in some cases.

Although it may still be a challenge, there are a number of ways that parents can help the child to have better oral health, and our Ipswich dental team take a look at these in today’s Foxhall Dental Practice blog.

Oral care at home

The basics of healthy teeth and gums start at home for all of us. This can be encouraged in young autistic children through building a solid explanation of the building blocks of good oral care. Autistic children usually like certainties, and you can build on these through explanations of what a toothbrush does, the role of the toothpaste etc, and why you should brush your teeth both morning and evening. It may take a little time, but if you can build up this process into a routine that they are familiar and comfortable with, this will be a positive step in the right direction.

Eating habits

Even more so than other young children, those on the autistic spectrum may have very strong likes and dislikes when it comes to taste. This can lead to some having a relatively restricted diet. As a parent, try not to introduce foods that you know are likely to lead to cavities and tooth decay. Avoid high sugar foods, and especially those which are likely to also stick to the teeth for longer. Toffee and chewy sweets are some good examples of these.

If you have already introduced them to the taste of fruit juice, it may be too challenging to stop them from having it altogether. You may find it useful to dilute their drink just a little each time you give it to them though. This will enable their taste buds to become accustomed to a new taste very gradually.

Keep a routine

With autistic children, it can often help to have quite a rigid regime. Whilst other children also often like routine, they are usually more adaptable to it than those with autism. Night time cleaning of the teeth can be particularly challenging. Rather than wait until the last thing at night to clean their teeth, it is probably better to do this a little earlier, before they are tired. Perhaps ensure that this is done at least half an hour before bed time, leaving time for a relaxing bedtime story before they go to sleep.

Safety concerns

Remember that a child should only use an amount of toothpaste, roughly equivalent to the size of a pea. Any child may well exceed this amount quite significantly so it pays to take care. If they like the taste of the toothpaste, they may even decide to consume large quantities straight from the tube. Although toothpaste may taste nice, it is important to remember that it does contain chemicals, and, if consumed in large quantities, this could, potentially, be harmful.

Make sure that you have a place where you can store the toothpaste that is well out of the reach of young children.

Visiting the dentist

Having a good home teeth cleaning regimen is a very positive start, but all children will still need to visit the dentist for regular inspections. Whilst all dentists in the team at the Foxhall Dental Practice are friendly and patient; if you have a child on the autistic spectrum, please do let us know in advance so that we can discuss which of our team is most suitable for the individual needs of the child.

We are happy to arrange a non treatment visit, where they can process what happens in the dental environment, without having the uncertainty of what will happen during an actual examination. You may need to build this up gradually, perhaps even by introducing the child to our reception team first of all, and gradually building up to meeting the dentist.

We will always endeavour to use language and messages that are appropriate for the child and we are always happy to discuss their individual needs with you.

With a little time and care, your child should be able to build up a relationship with the staff and treatments that take place at our Ipswich dentists surgery, and, hopefully, enable the child to build up an ongoing oral care regimen that will stand them in good stead for many years to come.

If you would like to talk to us about an autistic child or anyone with special needs, we are always happy to discuss this with you and find the best way for them to receive the appropriate care they need. You can call the Foxhall Dental Practice, during opening hours, on 01473 258396.