Approximately one in 68 of children in the US has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and many of them are not receiving adequate oral health care.
What is ASD?
According to the American Psychological Association, autism involves impaired social skills, including the ability to be aware of other people’s feelings and verbal and nonverbal communication. Some people with autism have limited interests, strange eating or sleeping behaviors or a tendency to do things to hurt themselves. It is now the most commonly diagnosed developmental disorder in the country.
Dental appointments can be very overwhelming for children with ASD, the bright lights and time spent sitting still in the chair can be stress provoking. However, there are steps we can take to make the experience less uncomfortable as well as preventative measures.
Go Slow Approach
To accommodate the needs of our patients with ASD, we develop an individualized treatment plan adjusted to their special needs. We begin with a pre-visit questionnaire to help prepare the patient, his/her parents or caregivers, as well as the doctor for the initial office visit.
Although each ASD patient will adjust to the dental environment at their own pace, typically the first visit will focus on a review of the questionnaire with the parents or care-giver and activities to help the child become acquainted with the office setting, the examination room, and the staff.
Then, on a second visit, the child may sit in the dental chair and be introduced to the lights, sounds, and instruments used the exam room.
Once they feel more at ease, on subsequent visits examination and treatment will be undertaken. Often a parent or caregiver will be encouraged to join the child in the exam room during treatment.
Maintaining good oral health is essential for all patients and it’s especially important for children with ASD. And good oral health begins at home.
Children should be encouraged to brush for two minutes and floss at least twice a day. If you have trouble getting your child to brush consider offering them an electric toothbrush. Sometimes changing the brand or flavor of your toothpaste may help and using pre-threaded floss may also make the task easier.
Dental examinations can be traumatic for all children, especially for those with ASD. Having an open dialogue with your dentist allows you to express any concerns up front and come up with the best plan for you and your child.