Autistic Children's Dental Health: 5 Tips To Help Your Autistic Child At The Dentist

Posted on: 2 April 2015

The underlying health of your smile is important, but teaching your children the importance can be difficult. Unfortunately, teaching the very young or kids with various disabilities or personality issues can be even more challenging. Characterized by a variety of social, behavioral, and emotional difficulties, autism affects an estimated 1 in 68 children. While a diagnosis can be overwhelming, you can help your child achieve a healthy lifestyle. Using this guide, you can help your autistic child through their upcoming dental exam.

Choose the Right Dentist

While surprising to hear, many dentists do not have autism knowledge. Before scheduling your child's appointment, ask the dentist if they have experience working with autistic patients. With proper understanding, your dentist will ensure a comfortable, stress-free visit for you and your child.

It is also important to communicate with the dentist before your scheduled appointment. Discuss your child's diagnosis, special needs, and any beneficial tips for when your child is in the exam chair. Each case of autism is unique, so any advice you can offer your dentist is helpful.

Schedule a meeting between your dentist and child before the exam, as well. This time allows your child to meet their new dentist, learn more information, and tour the facility, which will make them most comfortable at the scheduled exam.

Communicate Correctly

Autistic children struggle sustaining typical conversation, but communication is key to helping your child prepare for their upcoming dental appointment. When discussing their next scheduled exam, use the following tips:

  • Be Honest – To avoid emotional meltdowns or tantrums at the dental office, be completely open and honest with your child on what to expect. Discuss all tests and procedures days before the appointment to educate and prepare your child. If involved treatments that may cause discomfort are necessary, be sure your child has complete understanding.
  • Be Positive – Many adults suffer with a fear of the dentist, but it is important not to pass this fear to your child. Discuss shots and procedures without negativity.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing various dental steps and procedures at home days before the appointment is also helpful. While this may not appeal to your older child, young autistic patients will find it comforting. A few weeks before their next exam, ask your child to perform the following at home:

  • Recline – Exam chairs at the dentist can be intimidating for children, so allow your child to recline in a chair at home to practice. When in the reclined position with their feet out straight, instruct your child to place their hands on their stomachs to rest. Practicing this will help them relax while in the real exam chair.
  • Opening Mouth – Have your child open their mouth wide and hold in position for a 5 or more minutes. Daily practice will make the actual exam more comfortable for your child.
  • Using Tools – If possible, borrow a few tools from your dentist to use at home. Show your child a dental mirror, gum massager, and cleaning brush before the exams. Allow your child to wear a set of bite wings at home a few times to prepare themselves for their upcoming x-rays.

In the Office

It is important to note that preparation and practice does not always make perfect. Your child may struggle through the exam due to unexpected sounds, newly suggested treatments, or emotional distress.

Autistic brains are unable to balance senses correctly, so your child will most likely be highly sensitive to certain sounds, smells, sights, and textures. Since many dental tools create loud noises, unnatural feelings, and bright lights, your child may feel incredibly uncomfortable during the exam.

In many cases, these sensory issues can become painful for your child, resulting in tantrums and incomplete exams. To prevent sensory issues at the dentist, allow your child to wear headphones to play music and sunglasses to block the light.

Every child deserves a healthy, beautiful smile, but many parents forgo dental care after an autism diagnosis. Using these tips, your child will have a successful dental exam.