From teething all the way to adult teeth, every parent has to navigate the stages of dental care with their children. However, for parents of children with special needs, the journey is trickier and may seem overwhelming at times.
For example, children who may have growth and developmental delays may take longer to get their baby teeth and may be slower to lose them. They also may take longer to get adult teeth. Children with developmental problems also have a greater chance for bite problems like crowding, a faulty bite of the teeth, and poor jaw position. (Source).
Oral Care For Children with Autism
The good news, potential oral health issues are largely avoidable – and the best medicine is always preventative. However, for parents of children with autism especially, brushing teeth can be a cause for overstimulation, meltdowns, and self-injuring. From the Autism Speaks website,
“The sensation can be uncomfortable at first, and the child may need to be desensitized. You may want to start by using the toothbrush to touch your child’s lips or just inside the mouth. You may also want to teach your child to “open wide,” so that this direction is understood. Showing your child how you brush your own teeth may also be helpful.”
Additionally, think about these tips when choosing a dentist for your child on the autism spectrum. Start with a Pediatric dentist who specializes in caring for children with special needs. Then, consider the following;
- Share with the dentist your child’s intellectual and functional abilities, including information on the best way to communicate with your child.
- Be aware that oral care may trigger violent and self-injurious behavior such as temper tantrums or head banging.
- Children with autism function best with routine. It may be helpful to allow your child to visit the office before their appointment so they can become familiar with the setting.
- Help your child visualize what the visit to the dentist will be like by providing a picture of the office, the chair, and the dentist.
- Praise and reinforce good behavior after each step of a procedure. Ignore inappropriate behavior as much as you can.
- Set up appointments when the office is not busy. Minimize the number of distractions.
- Discuss with your dental provider any concerns that you may have regarding your child’s oral health. (Source).
The most important thing to remember is that while teaching your ASD child to brush their teeth (or doing it for them) may feel like an impossible task; it cannot be overlooked.
Remember, April is World Autism month, so stay tuned as we offer more resources for parents of children on the autism spectrum.
Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.