Dental Care Tips for a Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Dental Care for a Child With Autism
Posted on 10/26/2018

Your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) deserves to have healthy teeth and gums. However, kids with ASD often have difficulty coping with the sensations surrounding oral hygiene and dentist's visits. Here are some tips to help your child with ASD receive the dental care they need.

Understand the Challenges for Your Child's Oral Care

Children with ASD are challenged by toothbrushes and oral care. Some children with ASD are frightened or otherwise reluctant to allow anyone to look inside or touch their mouths.

Children with ASD may also suffer from:

  • A very strong gag reflex
  • Hypersensitivity to toothbrush texture
  • Inability to understand dental terms
  • Fear of bathrooms or running water
  • Fear of medical settings

The above challenges can make it difficult to maintain oral hygiene for a child with ASD. Some parents give up out of frustration and the desire to keep their child calm and happy.

Rather than give up on your child's dental care, resolve to work with your child to reduce fear and noncompliance. Make a list of the issues and problems that prevent your child's acceptance of dental care. Work with your child's therapists, physicians, and dentists to address the listed issues one by one.

Know That It's Always a Great Time to Start

It's understandable when parents put off dental care issues for children with ASD. If your child becomes combative or terrified during dental care sessions, you may feel guilty or sad for your child. Before you know it, years can go by without your child seeing a dentist or even having their teeth brushed.

Parents with ASD must understand that it's never too late to begin accustoming a child with ASD to dental care sensations and concepts. Your pediatric dentist is not going to look down on you or your child because dental care was neglected in the past.

In fact, your pediatric dentist can be a wonderful source of information and comfort for both you and your child with ASD. Your child's dentist can offer you tips, products, and services that help you provide proper dental care to your child now and in the future.

Use Patience and a Positive Attitude

When parents are anxious or frustrated over their child's refusal to adapt to dental hygiene habits, tooth care turns into a battleground. Dental care becomes associated with negative feelings like anger, pain, and fear to your child with ASD.

While your frustration is understandable, it's counterproductive. Take a deep breath and resolve to slowly work through the list of your child's dental challenges.

For example, you could start by working on your child's reluctance to have a toothbrush in his or her mouth. Some strategies you can use include:

  • Let your child brush your teeth
  • Have your child brush a doll's teeth
  • Let your child pick out their toothbrush

Another way to help your child adjust to the use of a toothbrush is to break down toothbrushing into baby steps. The first step is to find the toothbrush. Work on that one skill until it's mastered, then move to the next step of finding the toothpaste.

Additional steps can include:

  • Wet toothbrush with water
  • Apply toothpaste to brush
  • Brush front top teeth
  • Brush front lower teeth
  • Brush upper right molars
  • Brush lower right molars (and so on)

By working on each step individually until your child masters it, you don't overwhelm your child as you acclimate them to brushing their teeth. Display a positive, matter-of-fact attitude about the toothbrush, and praise each bit of progress.

Your child may need time to understand and follow the very first step of retrieving their toothbrush. No actual toothbrushing may take place during that time. But your child is learning how to find and hold the toothbrush. The slow, steady pace of learning helps your child build lifelong good dental habits.

Incorporate Your Child's Interests in Dental Learning

If your child loves picture books, check out library books or purchase books about dental care and dentists. If your child adores music, find songs and skits about toothbrushing and preventing cavities. If your child is an animal lover, show them media about dogs, cats, and zoo animals getting their teeth brushed.

Other ways to enhance your child's dental knowledge using their interests include incorporating:

  • Toy models of teeth and jaws
  • Cartoons and kids' shows about dentists
  • Social stories using your child as subject
  • Conversations with trusted loved ones about dentists

Encourage a child who loves car rides by pointing out your chosen pediatric dental office. Drive past the office frequently and talk about how the staff inside help people chew and smile.

Pull into the parking lot of the dentist's office and park without going inside. Talk about the grownups and children who are lucky enough to be visiting the dentist that day. Let your child know that one day, they will get to go inside, too.

Your child is less stressed learning the vocabulary and steps of dental care when you incorporate their favorite activities and toys. Learn more tips to help your child with ASD by contacting Treasured Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, LTD today. We offer special-needs dental care to children with ASD throughout the Frankfort, Mokena, and New Lenox regions.