Dental Care Considerations in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Posted on 11/15/2023 by Dr. Saklofsky
Smiling family with children after visit to Lincoln Center Smiles in Portland, ORThe sensory and social traits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) present unique oral health challenges. Adaptive techniques allow dentists to deliver positive, accommodating care customized to the needs of each patient.

Sensory Differences and Oral Aversions

Many autistic patients experience touch, sound, sight, and taste sensitivity. Dental equipment noises, office lighting, mouth manipulation, and tastes cause discomfort. These sensitivities may translate into oral aversion that hinders hygiene and treatment compliance. Gentle introduction of stimuli in a controlled manner can help desensitize.

Challenges with Communication

Social communication and emotional reciprocity difficulties inherent to ASD complicate practitioner-patient interactions during dental visits. Finding modes of communication that connect with each patient, verbally or nonverbally, is key to conveying procedures and gaining cooperation.

Importance of Structure and Routine

The preference for strict routines and order makes transitions and disruptions to expectations extremely difficult for those with ASD. Providing structured dental visits with clear timelines, step-by-step explanations, and no surprises minimizes anxiety. Maintaining consistency across visits is ideal.

Helpful Behavioral Approaches

Tell-show-do narration describes procedures before they occur, reducing fear of the unknown. Positive reinforcement encourages desired behaviors. Allowing patients to touch and explore instruments first gives a sense of control. Short, successive visits foster accommodation.

Caregiver Collaboration is Key

Open discussions identify positive strategies individual patients respond to best. Input from parents, teachers, and other caregivers proves invaluable for adapting techniques to meet needs. Ongoing collaboration ensures effective care.

Prioritizing a Supportive Environment

Accommodating schedules, sensory modifications, communication aids, and advanced preparation allow autistic individuals to receive oral care successfully. With compassion and creativity, dental offices can become accessible, low-stress settings.

Adjusting traditional dentistry methods successfully serves the oral health needs of autistic patients. A customized approach promotes sustained oral well-being.

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