Autism is a developmental disability that affects 1 in 88 children born in the United States, more boys than girls. There are several types of conditions that people with autism may have that can interfere with dental care. One is the inability to communicate needs either verbally or nonverbally. For some, it is also the inability to relate social-emotionally as in trust, approval, and interest in another person. It may be difficult to respond to questions or ask for help. Some people with autism have repetitive speech or motions like tapping fingers, and practices. In addition, many people with autism have been known to demonstrate a sensitivity to light, sound, touch and taste.
As a result, many dental teams and families have expressed a perception that children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders will have difficulty participating in oral health care. This is not necessarily true. It is essential to recognize that many persons have individual conditions and responses to dental care that the dental team can serve with small adaptations. The same is true with daily oral hygiene care at home. Individuals, families and caregivers have available a wide variety of toothbrushes, toothpaste flavors and textures, and flossing devices to match each person’s preferences. Occupational therapists have the skills to demonstrate ways to introduce toothbrushing habits that, over time, allow the individual to select techniques that work. Child life specialists can use developmental, educational and therapeutic services to take steps to support people in acquiring trust and participation in dental care.
To improve the oral health of children and adults with autism.
- Identify, promote and encourage promising practices that demonstrate strategies to improve the quality of oral health care and services for people with autism
- Provide opportunities for continuing education related to oral health care and treatment
- Foster a network of professionals, families and individuals with autism in order to pilot ideas and programs, exchange new techniques and develop an ongoing plan to reach the overarching goal
Technology is providing all of us new ways to identify and demonstrate promising practices. These links provide a sampling of valuable tool for individuals, families, dental professionals, and others who serve people with autism.
YouTube: Dental Care Program for Children and Adults with Autism
David Tesini, DDS, Pediatric Dentist in Massachusetts
DVD: D-Termined Program- Specialized Care Co
David Tesini, DDS, demonstrating his approach to desensitizing children to dental care, including parents’ testimony on the results.
Webinar: Individualizing dental care for children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders- Oral Health Kansas
Clive Friedman, DDS, demonstrates his approach to dental care for people with autism.
Dental Health for Children with Autism- Autism Speaks
An animation demonstrating toothbrushing and a presentation by a dentist
iPhone App- Minnesota Delta Dental
My Healthy Smile. Basic information about daily dental care, healthy eating for healthy teeth, going to the dentist. Provides pictures and voice to create a storyboard on toothbrushing, flossing, losing a tooth and health food choices
iPhone App: Pediatric Dental Expert
Written information and pictures on these topics: dental emergencies, home care, braces, children’s dental care, and preventive dental care. Materials presented as Q&A, Fun Facts, and Tooth Development Charts.
Many materials developed through partnerships between dental and autism specialists offer expert guidance that encourage oral health care for people with autism. The following are those Oral Health Kansas uses when providing workshops and individual guidance to individuals, families, caregivers and staff.
Dental Guide- Autism Speaks
A free downloadable dental care guide for families and caregivers of people with autism
Healthy Smiles for Autism Guide- National Museum of Dentistry
A free downloadable dental care guide for families and caregivers of people with autism.
Oral Health Fact Sheets for Dental Professionals: Children with Autism- School of Dentistry University of Washington
Oral Health Fact Sheets for Dental Professionals: Adults with Autism- School of Dentistry University of Washington
Practical Oral Care for People with Autism- National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research
Dental Management of Children with Autism
Offers guidance on strategies to establish a respectful, positive relationship in order to adapt the dental services to match the individual’s needs. Free downloadable material written by a practicing pediatric dentist in 2005. Daniel Ravel, DDS, FAAPD.
Individualizing dental care for children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Strategies for the dental team to establish trusting relationships with the children and with the families
Innovative, inexpensive strategies for creating the office environment that reduces sensory stimuli
Techniques to teach parents and caregivers so they can increase the child’s participation in dental care