Dental Health for Kids with Autism
An umbrella term for numerous neurodevelopmental disorders ranging from fairly mild to severe, the autism spectrum disorder can put more than a few obstacles on a path to better dental health for kids who are on the spectrum. Luckily, numerous dental offices can cater to the needs of children with autism nowadays, but most important is the parental effort in terms of creating oral care habits their child will slowly but surely embrace and use at home. That said, let’s look at some of the facts regarding the dental health of kids with autism.
What Is Autism or ASD?
The autism spectrum disorder stands for a range of conditions including challenges with social interaction, repetitive behaviors or restricted interests, speech, and communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States. These kids are more likely to develop serious dental problems due to medications they use, poor nutrition choices, and unusual oral behaviors they have, such as excessive lip biting or chewing potentially harmful objects, just to mention a few. Further, due to behavioral difficulties that follow it, kids with autism are more prone to oral problems such as bruxism, non-nutritive chewing, tongue-thrusting, self-injuries, erosion, xerostomia (dry mouth), and hyper gag reflex.
The Most Common Obstacles for Practicing Dental Hygiene
Establishing a consistent oral hygiene routine has proven to be demanding when it comes to kids with autism. These children are having a hard time when it comes to exercising everyday brushing and flossing due to the specific nature of their disorder. But this is where parents can play a crucial role in helping them gradually develop these habits.
But to better understand the types of obstacles kids with autism face, we must first determine two major autism groups: the first consists of sensory-seekers and the second of sensory-avoiders. To quickly explain it, if a child underreacts to sensory input, they will seek more of it. Conversely, if they overreact to sensory input, they will be looking to avoid it. That’s why establishing a brushing routine might be a bit easier for the first group, given the calming effect this action might have on them. If your child belongs to this group, you should consider getting them an electric toothbrush to offer them additional stimulation while brushing. The situation is somewhat different when it comes to sensory avoiders because they are overly sensitive to various types of stimuli. Therefore, parents must go the extra mile to set up a calm and soothing routine that will make them less reluctant to exercise everyday oral hygiene.
How Can You Help Your Child to Acquire Good Oral Hygiene Habits?
The most important thing here is to work towards it slowly. For starters, you should break the brushing task into smaller tasks such as identifying the toothbrush, putting the toothpaste on a toothbrush, brushing each of the four quadrants in their mouth, rinsing the mouth, etc. However, don’t forget to make it fun for your child and introduce some sort of reward for every step they complete successfully. It can be a sticker, praise, or anything similar. This will help them to improve their hygiene skills more quickly.
What Do Dental Treatments for Children With Autism Look Like?
For a child who’s on the spectrum, a visit to a dentist can be rather stressful due to exposure to various sensations including smells, sights, sounds, etc. However, a dental appointment doesn’t have to be that overwhelming if you do a thorough preparation in advance. Not only will it significantly reduce your child’s anxiety but you can also help your dentist by giving him or her additional information on your child’s condition or any particular needs they might have ahead of time. For instance, if you say that a child has severe disabilities, a dentist might determine that general anesthesia is necessary, etc.
On the other hand, a dentist might use techniques such as visual schedules and social stories to reduce anxiety levels in a child and help them understand what will happen next during their dental visit. Finally, you can schedule the tour to the dentist before the actual visit so that your child can get familiar with the surroundings. You can even pay a few visits to a dental office in a row and stay there for some time before you do the actual treatment.
Everyone deserves a healthy smile. If your child has an ASD, this might be a challenging task but there’s still a lot you can do to help them establish or improve their oral hygiene skills and have better oral health.
Do you have any other valuable piece of advice for other parents with kids who have ASD? Please do share it in the comment section below!