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Dental Care For Children On The Autism Spectrum

If your child has been diagnosed with autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may find that even routine daily tasks can become a monumental battle on a moment's notice. Teeth care is chief among these—from sensory issues to a limited, cavity-prone diet, children with autism or ASD face many dental health challenges. For some parents, just brushing your child's teeth may result in a meltdown. What can you do to improve your child's dental health and ensure that future dental visits are primarily positive?

Dental Care at Home

Children with autism or ASD may face any or all of the following dental health challenges:

  • Sensory issues that make the sensation of a toothbrush or the taste of toothpaste particularly stressful or problematic;
  • A limited diet that primarily consists of sugary items or juices that tend to promote cavities; 
  • A rigid focus on routine that can hijack the brushing process if, for example, you get home later than usual; and
  • A tendency to breathe through their mouth, which can cause gagging while brushing and at the dentist.

It's crucial to ensure that your child brushes their teeth at least once, and preferably twice, per day. Flossing is also a great way to avoid cavities, and some children may even enjoy the sensation. By starting with a gentle, soft-bristled brush and a mild-tasting toothpaste (as some children may be especially sensitive to strong mint or cinnamon flavors), and focusing on the "five" rule—brushing each of the three surfaces of each tooth at least five times—you may find that this process becomes easier. 

If your child has a weak sense of time or tends to become agitated when you assure them that an activity is almost over, using a simple egg timer or stopwatch to show them exactly how much time is left can make brushing easier. Some children may even want to count down using a microwave clock.

When to See the Dentist (and How to Prepare)

Dental visits can be challenging for any child, but especially children for whom strange sights, smells, and noises can quickly cause them to go into a tailspin. Preparation is key. Starting a few days before the visit, outline the steps the dentist will go through and what they may sound or feel like. If your child tends to be receptive to videos, it may be useful to watch a few videos of routine dental cleanings (with positive outcomes)! Be sure you've informed the receptionist that your child has autism or ASD and may require some extra reinforcements.

If you're able to go back into the dentist's office with your child, you may want to take advantage of this option; however, in some cases, staying in the waiting room may actually put your child more at ease.