A study done in 2011 found that children with autism needed significantly more restorative dental treatment.
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.
Technology is providing all of us new ways to identify and demonstrate promising practices. These links provide a sampling of valuable tools 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 provides a six-minute presentation of approaches he uses to teach children how to participate in dental care.
DVD: D-Termined Program- Specialized Care Co
Specialized Care Co. offers for purchase the complete set of videos featuring 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
In this one-hour webinar, Clive Friedman, DDS, demonstrates his approach to dental care for people with autism.
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
Dental Health for Children with Autism- Autism Speaks
An animation demonstrating toothbrushing and a presentation by a dentist.
Oral Health Kansas does not, in any way, endorse specific brands or products
Many materials developed through partnerships between dental and autism specialists offer expert guidance that encourages oral health care for people with autism. The following are those Oral Health Kansas uses when providing workshops and guidance to individuals, families, caregivers and staff. All materials are available for free downloading a reprinting for educational use.
Dental Guide- Autism Speaks
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