Tool kit helps dentists treat young patients with autism

Search Dental Tribune

Tool kit helps dentists treat young patients with autism

Dentists need to give special attention to children with ASD because they are unable to communicate their feelings of anxiety effectively. (DTI/Photo courtesy of Andresr/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Mon. 27 February 2012


NEW YORK, N.Y., USA: An autism organization recently published a guide to help dentists, dental hygienists and practice staff to better understand the special needs of patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which affects approximately 730,000 individuals in the USA and manifests between birth and age 21. The tool kit provides general data about ASD and guidelines to assist dental professionals in treating ASD children.

The Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network is a North-American autism science and advocacy organization. Their dentists and therapists designed the tool kit for dental professionals because they observed that dentists often felt unprepared for interacting with young patients with autism, although they were experienced in treating children.

The tool kit focuses on different issues that should be taken into account when treating children with ASD because they often have difficulty with sensory stimuli, communicating their wants and needs, and understanding expectations.

The authors sought to highlight that dentists need have an understanding of the symptoms and behaviors common to the disorder. For instance, children with ASD experience a great deal of anxiety when visiting the dentist, as do many other children. However, unlike other small patients, they are unable to communicate their feelings and emotions effectively and they may demonstrate uncooperative behavior.

Dental staff should therefore develop behavioral techniques for maximizing the success of the dental visit. Among others, the tool kit suggests scheduling the visit at a less busy hour in order to set the patient at ease. Children with ASD may also need special accommodation and be more relaxed if they see the same staff and same dentist at every appointment. According to the tool kit, a gradual approach to learning to tolerate the dental procedure may also be necessary. This involves a series of short visits to the dentist, which may start by simply entering the practice or sitting in the exam chair for a few minutes.

The staff at the dental practice should also address the parents' concerns. Since ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, parents may be worried about the possible neurotoxic effect of fluoride, which has become known to the public over the past few years.

According to the tool kit, 15 to 35 percent of children with ASD have been on a special gluten-free and casein-free diet, owing to the possible negative effects of these substances on brain function and the immune system. If a family is trying the diet, they may inquire about whether any dental products being used contain either gluten or casein.

Similar to other medical appointments, parents may be worried about the child having an unpleasant experience, as they will be about their own embarrassment. In preparation for the first visit to the dentist, the tool kit suggests sending parents the initial intake form for completion at home.

In addition to that, ASD patients might be at a higher risk of certain dental problems. Dietary reasons and behavioral difficulties may lead to complications concerning oral hygiene. Depending on the severity of their symptoms, patients commonly suffer from bruxism, tongue thrusting, and erosion, among other problems.

"By bringing the dental tool kit to the attention of their family dentist, families can help dental professionals stay up to date on autism spectrum disorder and help make visiting the dentist a positive experience for the child," said Dan Coury, Medical Director for Autism Speaks.

The tool kit "Treating Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Tool Kit for Dental Professionals" is available for free download on the organization's website.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, a growing part of the American population suffers from autism. They estimate that one in 110 children under the age of eight have ASD.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *