Although the rates for dental decay and gum disease in children/people with autism spectrum disorders are comparable to the general population, children with autism may experience more dental problems due to oral sensitivities around the mouth, their diet, difficulty with brushing, and difficulty in accessing dental care. Autistic children are sometimes unable to verbalize complaints about dental problems they may be experiencing; therefore, regular, periodic dental exams, both at home and in a dental office, are essential to ensure good health. 1
Dental visits can be scary for any child. For a child on the autism spectrum, a visit to the dentist can be extremely overwhelming. The lighting, the sounds, and the look of the tools, can put a child with autism on sensory overload.
While some children see regular dentists, a pediatric dentist may be a good choice for a child on the autism spectrum. Pediatric dentists have two or more years of additional advanced training beyond dental school. Their education as specialists focuses on care for children with special needs. Pediatric dentists, because of their expertise, are often the clinicians of choice for the dental care of adults with special needs as well. 2
Whether you choose a regular or pediatric dentist for your child, the most important factor is to find someone with whom you and your child both feel comfortable.
Dentists We Recommend:
13819 T Plaza, Omaha, NE 68137
Smile Station Pediatric Dentistry
6801 S. 180th Street (180th and Harrison), Omaha NE 68135
Questions To Ask Yourself:
- Is this dentist covered by my insurance plan?
- What are my child’s needs? Does s/he have sensory issues or does s/he have seizures? This information needs to be shared with the dentist.
- How does my child respond to pain? Is she oversensitive or under sensitive to pain? Explain this to the dentist.
- What is the office like? Is the office welcoming? Are there items of interest to distract the child (i.e. television, radio, games, etc.)?
- What behaviors does my child exhibit and how can this impact the dental visit?
- What can the dentist do to help my child feel comfortable? Would a “tell-show-do” approach help? Explain the procedure before it occurs. Show the instruments that you will use. Provide frequent praise for acceptable behavior. Tell the dentist what works best for your child. 3
Questions To Ask The Dentist:
- What is your experience with individuals on the autism spectrum?
- How will you handle difficult situations?
- Am I allowed to come back with my child during the appointment?
- Is it possible to have a private exam room? (Some dentists have multiple chairs in an open exam room.)
- What types of sedation/anesthesia methods do you use? 3
- Begin to brush your baby’s teeth early on to get him/her used to having his/her teeth brushed.
- Take your child to the dentist by age one. This will get them used to the dentist and can help reduce fear.
- Ask if you can schedule an orientation visit for your child to familiarize him/herself to the office and meet the dentist and staff. Ask staff to let him/her sit in the dental chair, and show your child how it can swivel or go up and down.
- Share social stories or read books about going to the dentist.
- Make appointments during the times of the day when your child is most relaxed.
- Talk to the dentist about your child’s behaviors and/or fears.
- Visit the dentist’s office before the actual appointment. Allow the child to look around, touch the equipment, and meet the staff.
- If your child is sensitive to light let them wear “special” sunglasses. If he/she is sensitive to sound, let them wear earplugs or headphones and allow them to listen to music. Many pediatric dentist offices offer these options.
- Buy a disposable mouth mirror from a pharmacy and practice looking in your child’s mouth with it before going to the dentist.
- If your child has a special stuffed animal or blanket, allow him/her to bring it to the appointment.
- Ask the receptionist to mail forms to you in advance to shorten the length of time in the office. 1
1 KCCDHN Kern County Children’s Dental Health Network, “Oral Considerations and Care for Children With Autism,” n.d. http://www.kccdhn.org/stories/storyReader$147 (29 November 2008)
2 American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry AAPD), “Dental Care for Special Child,’ n.d. http:// www.aapd.org/publications/brochures/specialcare.asp (30 November 2008)
3 Pediatric Dental Health, “Dental Management of Children with Autism,’ (10 January 2005) http:// dentalresource.org/topic55autistic.html (30 November 2008)