Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I recently contacted TouchPoint Autism Services to inquire about information for dentists and parents regarding dental care and treatment for patients with an autism spectrum disorder.  With the diagnosis of autism on the rise, most dental offices will have several patients on the autism spectrum.   Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to share this information with other dental health practitioners.

Autism Speaks has designed a colorful and descriptive fifteen page Dental Guide for Patients with Autism.  The guide covers  proper techniques for brushing and flossing, as well as how to find a dental office and prepare for the first visit.  One of their suggestions is that individuals with autism may benefit from a visual schedule depicting the daily toothbrushing process.  This guide also provides a visual schedule for a trip to the dentist office.  As an added bonus, the last portion of the guide provides information to dentists about how to prepare the office and staff for treating a patient with autism.  The guide includes a three page health and sensory questionnaire for patients with autism that can be used to assess how to best treat a specific patient.

An occupational therapist at TouchPoint offered the following recommendations for dentists treating patients with autism:

  • Provide prediction:  Tell the patient what you are going to do or how you are going to touch them before you do.
  • Provide firm touch.
  • Leave the xray drape over the patient for the duration of treatment for sensory input.  A weighted blanket is often calming to an individual with autism.
  • Distract the patient with something else like a visual toy or a video while doing something unpleasant.
  • Place your hand on the forehead while working in the mouth to provide pressure.
  • Complete some oral motor exercises or massage to reduce sensitivity.
  • Some patients may tolerate a vibrating toothbrush rather than a regular toothbrush
  • Experiment with different toothpastes. People with autism may be intolerant to certain tastes.
  • Avoid wearing strong smelling perfume or aftershave when treating the client, as many people with autism are hypersensitive to smell.

TouchPoint also pointed us to another guide for dentists working with autistic patients.  This guide highlights the following information.  Explain to the patient in short statements what will be happening during the appointment.  Some individuals with autism take information very literally so avoid phrases that might be confusing. Allowing the patient to see the instruments and know what they will do before their usage can  help.  Some patients may be soothed by pressure from touch, but inform the patient where you will be placing pressure prior to touching them.  Verbal praise should be used throughout the appointment whenever possible.  Enlist the parents help in giving suggestions for what will be helpful and harmful in working with their child.  As mentioned earlier, the Autism Speaks’ guide provides a questionnaire that may be helpful in attaining this information.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) also provides information on practical oral care for people with autism.  The NIDCR outlines information on behavioral, communication, health, sensory and oral issues that may present during a dental visit and tips for how to handle each of these areas.

About TouchPoint Autism Services

For more than thirty-five years, TouchPoint Autism Services has been a
premier provider of services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders
and their families. Our name reflects our desire to be the single touch
point for services to individuals with autism throughout their lives – a
place where families can always expect to receive quality services and
compassionate care and support. Services that are provided include: Adult
Programs/Support, Clinical Therapies, Consultation, Evaluations/Assessments,
Family Support, Individual Support, Residential Services, Parent Training,
and Training for Professionals, Support Groups, Training Services, and
Workshops/Seminars.