Expert advice on caring for your ASD child’s teeth for life

When it comes to oral hygiene, it can be challenging for children with autism to brush their teeth regularly. They may experience discomfort when cleaning for the first time, which makes them dislike performing this important task. If you’re a parent or caregiver, you need to be creative and consistent in finding ways to establish a hassle-free brushing routine that works for your child.

Here are some helpful tips from dentists and other experts who specialize in managing oral health for children with special needs.

Finding the best toothbrush for autistic child

Most children with autism have sensory issues – the feeling of brush bristles rubbing their teeth and gums may be too uncomfortable or too painful for them. They may also gag as the brush moves to the back of their throat.

The key is to experiment with different types of toothbrushes. You can try a toddler toothbrush with softer bristles or a sensory brush for older kids. There are also bristles made of silicone instead of plastic that your child may find more bearable.

Some children with autism struggle with brush strokes and do not brush their teeth thoroughly. For this you can try an electric toothbrush for children. These electric toothbrushes are often available in stores and online.

Finding the right toothpaste for autistic child

It’s not just the toothbrush that can cause discomfort to a child with autism. The wrong kind of toothpaste can significantly affect a child’s brushing experience.

Observe how your child reacts to the taste and texture of the toothpaste. If your child is verbal, you can ask if it feels and tastes good. It may take a few tries before you find a flavor or brand your child prefers.

Unfortunately, no single product is the best toothpaste for children with autism. Instead of trying to find a perfect product, focus on trying different products and seeing what works best for your child. If you feel that the taste or smell of the toothpaste is too strong for your child, you can try flavorless toothpaste, non-mint toothpaste, or another autism-friendly toothpaste. Try as many as you can and hopefully you’ll find a winner.

Build a routine at home

Oral hygiene starts at home. Ideally, it should start at a young age when all other routines are taught. The sooner your child learns oral care, the smaller the chance that he/she will develop serious dental problems later on.

Starting a dental routine can be difficult at first, but it is a necessary stage that every parent and child goes through.

Here are some best practices that can help you establish a dental routine for your child.

  • Tell the child in advance that it is time to brush his/her teeth within a certain time. Give the child a few minutes to shift from what he/she is doing to enjoying the idea of ​​brushing his teeth.
  • Create a visual schedule of tasks and include brushing his/her teeth.
  • Don’t wait until your child is too tired before starting the routine.
  • Use a song or visual timers so the child knows how long the task will take.

Visit to the dentist

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Expert advice on caring for your ASD child’s teeth for life

In most cases, dental problems require a visit to the dentist. Periodontitis and cavities are just two of the many dental problems in patients with autism.

Poor oral care in children with autism can lead to:

  • Gingival overgrowth
  • Tooth decay
  • Periodontal gum disease
  • Bruxism (a condition caused by constant teeth grinding)
  • Abnormal teeth (size, shape and number of teeth in the mouth)
  • The rapid or slow eruption of one or more teeth
  • Teeth with pits, discoloration and lines

Going to the dentist can cause fear and/or anxiety in your child. It certainly won’t be easy, but with well-placed strategies it can be done.

There are many reasons why your child has difficulty with the dentist. The harsh light, noisy equipment, unfamiliar sights and sounds, and other environmental factors can make your child’s first visit to the dentist a challenge.

If going to a family dentist seems impossible, finding a pediatric dentist who works with children with special needs is the best option. These dentists receive training outside of dental school and have a standard procedure. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other parents with special needs or your healthcare provider if you need help finding them. The American Dental Association has an online search tool to find a dentist near you.

Some good examples of preparing your child for the dentist include:

  • Give the child a visual sequence of what to expect during the visit
  • Watch videos of a “happy” dentist visit
  • Use social stories to set the child’s expectations and address anxiety
  • Go with a parent or sibling and see how the child is being examined/treated
  • Bring a favorite object or toy for comfort

If your child needs urgent dental work and refuses treatment, the dentist may suggest anesthesia. Sedation is common practice in dentistry, and even in non-autistic patients, it is primarily used to address anxiety. This method keeps the patient slightly awake, unlike anesthesia, where the patient falls completely asleep.

While this may seem extreme, it may be the only way to get your child treated. If you are concerned, ask your dentist as many questions as possible to help you make an informed decision.

Sedation may seem like the easier option, but the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) strongly recommends treating sedation as a last resort and instead working on making dental visits a positive experience for your child.

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Seek help from experts

Therapists and special needs specialists can help you prepare your child for his/her first visit to the dentist. Studies have shown that applied behavior analysis (ABA) is effective in creating positive dental care experiences for children with autism.

ABA is a treatment system that uses positive reinforcement and rewards, as well as explaining the consequences of negative behaviors. In this approach, communication between the parent/specialist and the child is essential.

In planned activity training for a dental visit, the parent or specialist can:

  • Explain what the visit entails
  • Describe what will happen during the visit
  • During the visit, make it clear what is expected of the child
  • Describe the steps of the visit (reception, waiting room, dental chair)
  • Show photos of every step of the visit
  • Have the child use headphones to reduce noise and/or use sunglasses to minimize glare from bright lights
  • Visit and talk to the dentist and staff to get to know them

In the study “Applied Behavioral Analysis: Behavioral Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Dental Settings,” authors Hernandez and Ikkanda state, “For example, positive reinforcement such as rewarding with toys or praise can lead to improved compliance in the dental chair. Conversely, negative reinforcement such as drilling can be handled by performing the procedure for a predetermined period of time, such as counting from 1 to 10.

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Expert advice on caring for your ASD child’s teeth for life

The study concluded that parents, experts and dentists should all be on the same wavelength when it comes to treating the child. Open communication, a clear understanding of autism, and a willingness to help can go a long way in addressing a child’s dental care needs.

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Expert advice on caring for your ASD child’s teeth for life

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