As a parent, you and your family’s schedule may be packed with activities including school responsibilities, after school activities, and planning family time. With these responsibilities, it may cause dental health to be pushed back on the priority list. Since February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, it is a great reminder of the importance of taking care of your children’s teeth!
Why Dental Care is Important for Children with Autism?
According to the National Library of Medicine, children with autism or other special needs have a greater risk of dental disease, which makes the prioritization of dental care is crucial for children with autism. Sensory sensitivities make routine oral hygiene, like brushing and flossing, more difficult and time consuming for children on the spectrum, which may lead to more oral issues, such as, plaque build-up, gum disease, and tooth decay. Also, children on the spectrum may practice habits that negatively impact their teeth, such as teeth grinding or chewing on non-edible objects.
The other factor for kids with autism, is that trips to the dentist are challenging, because these appointments include new sights, jarring sounds, and unfamiliar smells, which may be overwhelming to a child on the spectrum. This may lead to a fear of the dentist, which can escalate over time and make future visits even more difficult. Despite the barriers, Children’s Dental Health stresses the importance of regular check-ups to maintain good oral health, especially for children that struggle with routine oral hygiene.
How to Make Dental Visits Easier for Children with Autism
Preparing for dental visits should begin before a child’s first birthday by finding a quality dentist that specializes in pediatric care. Scheduling early check-ups can be good practice, because these early check-ups are usually quick and pain free. This appointment allows your child a stress-free introduction to their dentist and this oral care routine.
- Find a dentist who has experience caring for patients with autism. There are dental teams that have more experience in working with children on the spectrum. They’ll be more accommodating with an understanding of your child’s needs during an appointment. A dentist who specializes in autism will be more equipped to handle any behavioral or sensory issues that may arise during a visit. It is also helpful to consistently visit the same dentist when possible.
- Prepare your child in advance for their dental appointment. Before your child’s visit, talk to them about what to expect from the appointment. This talk can include showing your child pictures of a dentist’s office. Another helpful tool may be a visual schedule for the dental visit, which can guide your child from the step of entering a dentist’s office to them receiving a special prize following a completed appointment!
- Encourage positive reinforcement throughout the appointment. This may start by allowing your child to bring a comfort item to the dentist office, such as a favorite toy or soothing blanket. Offering them this item can act as a reward for your child after they enter the dentist office or when they sit in the dentist’s chair! Rewarding your child through each step of the appointment for good behavior can also reinforce positive behavior and mitigate problematic reactions. Dentists usually offer a toy or goodie bag after the appointment, which may also act as praise for your child’s bravery.
- Call your child’s dentist ahead of the appointment. This call can help you and the dental team strategize the appointment to cater to your child’s specific needs and preferences. Some tools that your dentist may suggest for the appointment include noise-canceling headphones, a weighted blanket, sunglasses, or a hand mirror.
- Schedule off-peak appointments for your child. If your child struggles with sensory issues, an early morning or late afternoon appointment may be an ideal solution. A dentist’s office may be less busy and have fewer distractions during those hours.
Dental Care is Essential for Children with Autism
While both promoting routine dental care and completing dentist visits may be challenging for your child on the spectrum, these responsibilities are crucial to maintaining oral health. Visual aids and positive reinforcement are great tools to use for overcoming challenges. Through a system of rewarding routine oral care and by following the tips above for dentist visits, you can help make oral care less stressful for your child with autism!
If you are looking for additional autism support, visit the Helping Hands Family (HHF) site online for more informational articles. Please feel free to reach out to us if you have a child with autism. We offer in-clinic, in-home, and in-school autism therapy throughout the northeast! We base our autism treatment on each child’s unique needs with the goal of helping kids with autism progress socially and support new ways of interacting with the world!