5 Strategies For Limiting Damage To Your Autistic Child's Teeth

Posted on: 3 March 2015

With autism diagnosis numbers continuing to rise each year, there are millions of parents struggling to help their children reach adulthood with a healthy set of permanent teeth. Autism spectrum disorders both cause behavior that damages the teeth and make it hard for the child to handle a trip to the dentist. Protect your child's teeth despite the challenges by trying these five helpful techniques.

Switch Stimming Methods

Stimming is repetitive behavior that stimulates at least one of the senses and helps relieve stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, many children on the autism spectrum develop detrimental mouth-based stimming habits like:

  • Grinding the teeth or clicking them together rapidly
  • Thrusting and rubbing the tongue against the teeth and lips
  • Picking at the gums and chewing the lips
  • Over-consumption of sweet and sticky foods like candy and gum

While the act of stimming itself is not harmful, it is possible for the behaviors used for self-stimulation to become destructive. If your child will tolerate a mouth guard, it's a good way to allow them to grind their teeth without wearing them down. Offering soft and durable toys that can withstand chewing is another option for redirecting mouth-related habits.

Find The Right Dentist

It's not hard to find a pediatric dentist, but that's not enough when you're caring for a child with autism or Asperger's disease. The average office is filled with too much stimulation in the form of lights, sounds, smells, and textures. Many dentists also refuse to treat autistic children because they don't want to deal with non-cooperating patients.

Finding a dentist willing to work with children with developmental delays and sensory processing disorders is crucial. Extra training helps the dentist guide the patient through the scary world of routine cleanings and cavity fillings. For example, most autism friendly dentists let the patient visit a dozen or more times before even opening their mouth so they can grow to feel comfortable with their surroundings first.

Avoid Jumping To Sedation

If you already visit a dentist who doesn't specialize in handling autistic children, it's likely that you were told sedation or restraint is your child's only option. These two techniques both come with serious risk factors and can make an autistic patient even more afraid of their experiences. Even if it takes months or years of work to acclimate the child to the office environment, it'll pay off in the long run when they can continue to comfortably get care as adults instead of completely avoiding the dentist.

Reduce Stimulation

Cutting down on unnecessary stimulation is helpful both in the dentist's chair and at home. For example, switch out the usual toothbrush for a three-sided model that reduces the amount of time the device needs to stay in the mouth for a thorough cleaning. Work with a dentist willing to swap out bright spotlights for dimmer and more focused head lamps and flavorless tooth polishing compounds.

Develop A Strong Dental Routine

Most children on the autism spectrum thrive on routine, so it's important to include dental care in the daily schedule as early as possible. Even simple steps like flushing out the mouth with water after meals and examining their own teeth daily creates a distinct step in the routine. Make space for dental care even if brushing and flossing is still out of the picture.

Patience and perseverance are the key words for helping an autistic child find a comfortable way to take care of their teeth. Too many parents give up after a few attempts at visiting the dentist or brushing. Keep experimenting and celebrate the smallest successes to keep your own spirits up as you work with your child's unique needs. For more information, contact a dental office like Schererville Family Dentistry, PC.