Advancing Autism Friendly Dental Care
Most parents often worry that their child’s dental hygiene may be poor. However, this worry may be exacerbated for those parenting a child with ASD, as there are a host of autism-related sensory issues that come into play.
Even the thought of visiting a dentist may be daunting for children due to the intimidating environment of a dental clinic, particularly, the smell, loud noise from equipment, sharp tools, etc. Moreover, children might find it rather threatening when they find a masked adult performing procedures that are new and out of the ordinary for them. All of these reasons may result in your child refusing to visit their dentist.
However, prevention is better than cure.
Before a trip to the dentist has to be made, we recommend implementing various preventive techniques that can help your child avoid dental problems that require hospitalization. It’s important to equip your child with good dental hygiene habits as early as possible.
In this blog, we will discuss a few tips on how parents can help their children get familiar with dental hygiene, as well as tips on easing the process of making a dentist visit.
Here are a few tips that parents can follow at home:
1. Teach your children vocabulary related to dental hygiene
Make sure your child knows specific steps he needs to follow, their sequence and purpose. Teach him various words related to dental hygiene such as toothbrush, toothpaste, water, sink, towel, teeth, mouth, tongue, etc.
Build conversations using these words everyday. This creates an awareness that will help your child feel more confident when they visit the dentist. Create a bathroom routine for your child and make sure they follow it every day. Apart from this, you can read several developmentally related dental hygiene books or watch videos along with your child.
TIP: Create an outline of dental hygiene steps during or after reading dental hygiene books along with your child. This can also be converted to a social story that is personalized to what his/her experience will be.
2. Follow a healthy diet
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to have strong sense of likes and dislikes when it comes to what they eat. Avoid foods that can tear the enamel, such as sugary drinks, gummy foods, acidic foods, chocolates, etc. If your child refuses to drink water, dilute their favorite drink with water and gradually increase water intake over time. If your child already has dental issues, make sure they brush their teeth twice daily and follow the instructions given by the dentist. If your child has a habit of going to bed with sippy cups with water or milk in them, it might lead to liquid pooling in their mouth. Gradually divert your child by talking, reading a bedtime story, playing soft music, and put them to sleep without their sippy cups. As a parent, do your best in providing a diet that helps in reducing the risk of cavities.
TIP: Always stay in touch with your child’s dentist and report your child’s progress.
3. Create a visual schedule
A clear set of expectations saves everybody’s time. We observed that when children know what needs to be done and the purpose of their actions, they tend to perform the task better. An hour before bedtime, make your child brush their teeth, give them a nice warm bath, get them dressed for bed (use soft fabric), followed by reading a book together or listening to soft music. Create a visual schedule for the same. Avoid using statements that are ambiguous or generic, such as ‘just one more minute’ or ‘you are almost done.’ To indicate when to stop brushing, consider using visual timers, play dental hygiene music on YouTube or you can simply use vibrating or battery-operated toothbrushes that indicate when to stop brushing.
TIP: Draw a diagram with your child outlining the mouth. Teach them how to move their brush from one section of their mouth to another. You can also use an actual mouth design (3D object) and actual toothbrush and follow the same teaching techniques.
4. Establish a brushing process
First, create structure for safety and skill development, as wandering around with a toothbrush can be dangerous. We recommend introducing the dental hygiene process to your child with the toothbrush alone first. This is because many children tend to eat toothpaste and might refuse to follow through with the brushing process. Therefore, when they only have a toothbrush, chances of them sticking to the process of brushing is high. Meanwhile, as they get accustomed to placing a toothbrush in their mouth, explore various options of toothpaste flavors that your child likes.
TIP: Store toothpaste out of reach from your child if they tend to consume more than the pea size amount recommended.
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For more information regarding sensory therapy, cognitive skills, behavior therapy, developmental disorders, and early intervention, please contact Stepping Stones Center. We emphasize on acquiring new and appropriate behaviors, while also working on helping the child achieve developmentally age-appropriate milestones through evidence-based practices.