Encouraging Good Dental Hygiene In Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder
For children with autism, dental hygiene can often be neglected. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) don't recognize the importance of good dental hygiene, and for some, sensory issues related to tooth brushing or dental visits can be a major deterrent to good dental health care. If you have a child with ASD, here are some ways that you can help encourage good dental hygiene and keep their teeth healthy as they grow.
Find the "right" way to brush
Every child with ASD is different. Some may have sensitivities to the feel of the toothbrush bristles on their teeth, and others may feel uncomfortable with the taste or texture of the toothpaste and its froth. You may need to try several different toothbrushes, or even use an oral swab if your child truly can't tolerate the feel of a real toothbrush. The vibrations caused by an electric toothpaste can counteract the sensitivity to the bristles in some children, so be sure to try one of these.
While brushing with toothpaste is the ideal way to brush, if your ASD child can't tolerate it, try starting out with just plain water. You can also incorporate mouthwash into the routine, and try toothpaste again in small amounts at a later time.
Give timed brushing targets
If tooth brushing seems tortuous to your ASD child, it might be difficult to get them to brush for a full two minutes, which is the length of time many dentists recommend. It might be easier for your child to count the number of strokes instead of counting the minutes. Start by aiming for five strokes on the top, back, front and sides of every tooth, and reward completion with a sticker or other small prize.
Give visual reminders
It may be difficult for your ASD child to remember when and even how to brush their teeth correctly, so visual reminders can be a great help. Illustrated charts that walk them through the process can help. Another method is to film yourself or your child brushing correctly and let them watch the video during brushing time. They can copy your moves and complete the steps correctly.
Creating a dental hygiene "chore chart" also helps keep ASD kids on track with their dental hygiene. Create a checklist of steps that need to be completed, so your child can tick off each step as it's finished. A completed chart for a specified amount of time, say, one week, results in a reward for your child.
Failure to brush regularly is bad enough for your ASD child's teeth, but compound that with lots of juices, sodas and sticky sweets, and you're asking for trouble. Search for sugar-free snacks and drinks whenever possible, and give your child water with every sweet food to limit the amount of sugar left on teeth after they've eaten. Candies and chewing gum sweetened with Xylitol may help prevent tooth decay because the natural sweetener doesn't break down into food for bacteria on the teeth. These foods can help satisfy your child's sweet cravings without encouraging dental problems.
Don't skip checkups
Many children with Autism hate going to the dentist because of sensory issues that they may have. Bright lights, strange noises and the sensation of having the dentist's tools in their mouth can lead some children into a panic, but it's important that you don't skip these checkups. Look for a pediatric dentist who has experience in treating special needs children, and ask if you can bring your child in for a desensitizing visit. This visit is just to get your child accustomed to the surroundings and the tools that will be used and can help make the actual checkup less frightening.
It may take a little more effort to keep your ASD child's teeth healthy, but their healthy, beautiful smile is a great reward for all of your efforts. Help your child learn how to care for their teeth today, so they'll have a lifetime of smiles to look forward to.