For many children, dental appointments can be a source of anxiety and discomfort. However, for children with autism, the challenges are often magnified due to sensory sensitivities, communication difficulties, and behavioral concerns.
Navigating the dental environment can be particularly overwhelming for autistic children, leading to heightened stress and potential avoidance of dental care altogether.
It’s why, according to recent research, children with autism tend to have poorer oral health compared to their typically developing peers, including increased instances of caries and periodontal diseases.
As parents and dental professionals, it’s essential to recognize these unique struggles and work together to create a more accommodating and comfortable dental experience for autistic children.
With that in mind, let’s explore the evidence-based strategies we utilize for improving dental appointments for children on the autism spectrum.
For children with autism, familiarity is comfort. Straying from a routine or environment that is familiar can be extremely stressful. That’s why we allow children with autism to visit the dental office before the actual appointment.
Doing so helps your child to familiarize themselves with the environment and staff, reducing anxiety on the day of the appointment. They can even enter the treatment room, play with our toys, and even sit in the dental chair.
Consistent Dental Care
As mentioned, familiarity, and therefore consistency, helps to ease your child’s anxiety. We are a small private dental office, meaning your child will see the same pediatric dentist or orthodontist every time.
Rather than visiting large corporate practices with high turnover, at Ontario Kids N Braces, your child will get to know our dentists and orthodontists, and feel comfortable and cared for.
By choosing us you can create consistency with your appointment location, and routine to help establish predictability and familiarity for your little one.
We can work with parents to gradually desensitize children with ASD to all kinds of dental procedures. Research has shown that sensory sensitivities are a major factor in avoidance of dental care for children with autism.
Therefore, we can gradually expose children to dental procedures by showing them tools used during familiarization visits, running dental drills and suction hoses, and letting them listen to the sounds of other dental instruments.
We can also work with parents to practice using a toothbrush, dental floss, and mouthwash at home to familiarize the child with the sights, sounds, and feelings of dental care activities.
Reduced Sensory Stimuli
Studies have shown reducing sensory stimuli to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the anxiety children with autism feel in the dental office.
With that in mind, we modify the dental environment to reduce sensory stimuli. This might include dimming lights, using noise-canceling headphones, and offering fidget toys or weighted blankets to help the child feel more secure.
We will work with you directly to ascertain what your child’s needs are.
In some cases, the use of medications, such as sedatives or analgesics, may be appropriate to help manage your child’s anxiety during dental appointments. This should be considered on a case-by-case basis in consultation with a member of our team.
It may be the case that the only way your child can comfortably receive dental treatment (routine or otherwise) without going through undue stress or trauma is via sedation dentistry or general anesthesia – commonly referred to as “sleep dentistry.”
Again, to see whether pediatric sedation dentistry is right for your child, you’ll need to consult with a member of our team.
Scheduling Appointments During Quiet Periods
Quieter periods at the dental office mean fewer people, less noise, and a generally calmer atmosphere. This can be particularly beneficial for children with autism, who may be more sensitive to sensory stimuli such as loud sounds, bright lights, or crowded spaces.
By reducing potential triggers, we can create a more comfortable and controlled environment, making it easier for autistic children to cope with the appointment and receive the necessary care.
Parents can coordinate with our dental office to determine the best time for your child’s appointment, taking into account factors such as your child’s daily routine, energy levels, and the office’s typical patient flow.
Talk To Us Today Regarding Your Autistic Child’s Needs
At Ontario Kids N Braces, we recognize that autism is a spectrum and what works for one child may not work for another. That’s why we take the time to discuss your child’s unique needs with you.
From starting desensitization within your family home to building familiarity in our office, our compassionate team is dedicated to helping your child feel comfortable.
So if you want your child to receive the best possible dental care tailored to their specific needs, contact us today at (909) 466-4611. We look forward to helping your child enjoy a comfortable dental experience.
Burgette, J. M., & Rezaie, A. (2020). Association between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Caregiver-Reported Dental Caries in Children. JDR Clinical and Translational Research, 5(3), 254–261. https://doi.org/10.1177/2380084419875441
Kogan, M. D., Strickland, B., Blumberg, S. J., Singh, G., Perrin, J. M., & Van Dyck, P. C. (2008). A National Profile of the Health Care Experiences and Family Impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children in the United States, 2005–2006. Pediatrics, 122(6), e1149–e1158. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2008-1057
Duker, L. I. S., Polido, J. C., Mailloux, Z., Coleman, G. G., & Cermak, S. A. (2011). Oral care and sensory sensitivities in children with autism spectrum disorders. Special Care in Dentistry, 31(3), 102–110. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1754-4505.2011.00187.x
Nelson, T., Sheller, B., Friedman, C. S., & Bernier, R. (2015). Educational and therapeutic behavioral approaches to providing dental care for patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Special Care in Dentistry, 35(3), 105–113. https://doi.org/10.1111/scd.12101