What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong disability that stems from an abnormal development of the brain. This complex condition hinders the social, intellectual, behavioural and communication abilities in a person. The severity of autism differs between individuals and the autism spectrum best describes the range of difficulty in the following
- Interaction in a conversation
- General communication or social interactions
- Repetitive behaviour
- Hypersensitivity to the senses
The above makes it difficult for individuals with autism to function around people and everyday settings. One such example would be visiting the dentist. Here lies a strange place with unknown people. It is not a simple matter of getting an autistic child into the dental chair with the promise of a treat later on.
Preparing an Autistic Child for a Dental Visit
For a child with autism, visiting the dentist could be one of the scariest things possible. Most people are scared of the dentist anyways as it invokes a sense of claustrophobia and not being able to see what exactly the dentist is getting up to in your mouth. For a child with autism, this close quarter setting and constant prodding in the mouth can be an absolute no-no. Autistic children have a difficult time communicating and often at times, can appear to be distant or simply detached from their surroundings or people around them. They have a tougher time reacting to social cues with unpredictable bodily movements. This is what complicates a visit to the dentist and why formulating a plan is important. It is vital that there is a build up to the dentist visit so that they would have an inkling of what to expect. This could be in the form of fun visual aids to explain the process. It can also be done with a fun story time, to explain a dental visit to your child. This should cover what will happen and why exactly he/she needs to go to the dentist. Some kids may require a more intensive routine of physical aid. This is to show exactly what will happen at the dentist’s office. The following can be tried at home, and if you would like to take it a step further then the basic instruments and a torch can be bought from a local pharmacy to help with the demonstration.
- Have the child sit on a reclining chair and get familiar with this position.
- Place hands on the stomach and put feet out straight just like you would in the dentist’s chair.
- Have them open their mouth as wide as they can and then hold this for a bit.
- Run over their teeth with an electric brush so that they can get familiar with the deep clean polish that is given during check-ups, and become used to having a strange device in their mouth.
- Practice the taking of x-rays and being seated very still for a few seconds.
- Mimic spitting into a sink.
Children with autism need to get acquainted with the dentist also. This could be just a meet and greet appointment where our dentist will chat up the little patient and get to know each other a bit. The actual appointment can be scheduled for another day so that the child will not feel overwhelmed. The initial encounter with our dentist for an autistic child can be done by bringing along a friend or family member so that there is a support structure in place. Repetitive behaviour is common among autistic children. Use this to prepare them for their turn in the chair. Bring along another child, be it a sibling, cousin or friend and let them have their consult first. This will allow the child with autism to watch the dentist perform their duties on them and have a further bit of understanding of what they are about to encounter themselves.
Choosing a Dentist for Autism
It is so important to choose the right dentist for autism. All of our dentists at Family Dental Care go the extra mile in treating patients with autism. We understand that it will not be a simple in and out consultation, and are here to provide the most seamless experience necessary. A parent can accompany their autistic child into the dental room. This will provide a safety blanket of sorts, knowing that there is someone that the child knows, right there at all times. Seeing our dentist for autism, must be done by making an appointment. This way, parents are also able to schedule the appointment for a time of day that they know that their child is in a good mood. Our dentist is also available for emergency appointments. If you do not know in advance, of when will be a good time for your child, then call our nearest branch whenever a good mood arises to try and schedule an emergency appointment. Of course, for this to not be a total shock to the child, they need to already be familiar with the dentist. The dentist for an autistic child, that you choose, must be able to accommodate specific needs such as not allowing for a long wait time in the waiting rooms. Our dentist will require as much back information as possible. This will include the severity of the autism, known dislikes and also past medical information. Many children with autism are prone to seizures. Our dentist for an autistic child is aware of this and well trained to respond quickly in the event of a seizure and remove all dental items from the mouth.
The Family Dental Care Dentist
A dentist for an autistic child can be seen at any of our branches within Durban and even in the Midlands region. We are a family dentist and it prides us on the close relationships we have formed with our patients over the years. This is vital when it comes to a dentist for an autistic child. Familiarity leads to a better dental session. For this reason, our dentist for autism needs, suggests that kids be brought in regularly and from an early age so dentist visits can become a normal part of a routine. Our dentist for autism understands the condition and will speak in a calm and soothing manner. They also understand the need for consistency and to relay whatever is going to be done to the teeth. We understand the sensory reactions of autistic children and prepare our rooms to keep them comfortable. This will include dimming down the lights and keeping any loud noises to a minimum. Of course, our dentist for autism would cater these according to the reaction of each child. Headphones or sunglasses can be worn by the child if they have been rehearsing for the dental trip with these. Any unnecessary clutter in the office will be removed as this can distract autistic children and add to anxiousness. Instruments will be turned on by our dentist before being used on the mouth. Our dentist for autism realizes that this would be a shock to the child, if say the polishing instrument were to come on when they are not expecting it. Our dentists always end each visit on a positive note. A dentist for an autistic child will know that it may require multiple visits to complete an exam or fill in a cavity. This is done to shorten the timespan that the child will have to be in the chair.
Conscious sedation will be needed if a child has a really high level of anxiety and is not coping too well with even the short amount of time required for a regular check-up. It can also be used if there are multiple treatments that need to be done in the mouth which needs a bit of time to be carried out. Conscious sedation is not full on putting the child into a deep sleep. An anaesthesiologist will be brought in to administer the drugs for the sedation. The child will be conscious, but will be in a state of deep relaxation and along with not feeling any pain from the procedure, they will not be bothered by all of the intrusions into their mouth or personal space. The dentist can carry out any procedures that need to be done without resistance. This can be discussed at the initial consultation. It cannot be done then because the anaesthesiologist will have to be booked to be brought into the rooms. Recovering from conscious sedation is much faster than with general anaesthesia.
Dental Concerns for Children with Autism
Children with autism need the same level of oral care as those without the condition. It is the communication and behavioural problems associated with autism that provide challenging oral care. Cavities will occur if kids prefer sweet and sticky foods and do not follow this up with a good at home cleaning routine. Oral habits that are damaging include tongue thrusting, self-injuring or bruxism. Phenytoin is a drug used in controlling seizures. The drug does cause a delay in tooth eruption. This will be monitored by our dentists.