Autism& Dental Care
As parents and the carer of children with autism are aware, maintaining oral hygiene and dental health can be challenging.
Every individual with autism varies in terms of their sensory issues, abilities and needs.
Literature suggests that many children with autism may be more at risk of suffering from certain dental conditions as a result of such characteristics.
These may include tooth decay, gum disease, oral trauma, tooth wear, acid erosion and dry mouth conditions.
Grinding and tooth wear
Excessive grinding and clenching of the teeth during the day and night can cause gradual wear of tooth surface, pain, tooth loss and jaw problems.
Grinding/wear can be caused by stress, irregular biting position, medication side effects, epilepsy, seizures, developmental tooth defects and missing teeth.
Consult the dentist
The dentist may produce a custom-made mouth guard to help reduce wear.
The dentist may also be able to modify the way in which the teeth bite together if appropriate.
The dentist may repair the teeth to reduce pain and restore function.
The dentist may provide topical fluoride treatments/high fluoride toothpaste to help reduce the sensitivity.
Relaxation/stretching techniques may help
The dentist/doctor may be able to recommend some techniques, such as:
Stretching and massaging the jaw muscles may help relax them. With a slightly open mouth, place your knuckles under the cheek bones and slowly drag them down the face towards the bottom of your jaw. This can be repeated numerous times throughout the day if required.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) due to a reduction in saliva flow can often be a side effect of certain antidepressant, antipsychotic and anticonvulsant medication.
Dry mouth can result in discomfort, reduced taste, increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease and oral infections. It can affect speech, chewing and swallowing.
Consult the doctor and if there is no alternative medication, there are tips to help reduce the effects of dry mouth.
Saliva substitutes: Sprays, gels, pastilles, tablets and mouthwashes, such as Luborant, Salivix, SST, Biotene etc. Many are available in chemists or consult your doctor for advice.
Frequent sipping of plain water (avoid drinks containing sugar)
Rinsing mouth with plain water after meals to help cleansing and removal of food debris Bathing the mouth with moist gauze Lubricate dry lips with petroleum.
Avoid spicy food as this dehydrates tissues.
Prescription fluoride toothpastes, mouthwashes and fluoride treatments from dentist to help fight tooth decay.
Toothbrushing at home – The parent’s role
1. What is the best way to brush my child’s teeth?
Stand or sit behind and above your child, so that you can see where you are brushing and so you can support your child’s head.
2. When should we brush?
Ideally twice per day – just before bed and at one other time. Before bed is most important as the fluoride from the toothpaste
will stay on the teeth whilst your child is asleep. Remember to encourage your child to spit out excess toothpaste. Discourage rinsing after brushing so the benefits of the fluoride last.
3.Which toothpaste should we use?
Some children don’t like the taste and texture of toothpaste and may prefer brands which are flavorless or low foaming.
If you are really struggling, try brushing the teeth with water
first and then rinse the brush and dab some fluoride toothpaste around the teeth.
4. Should I buy an electric toothbrush?
A child’s teeth can be brushed perfectly well with a normal (manual) toothbrush, in fact for some autistic children an electric brush can be very disturbing. However, if your child has sensory seeking behaviors, then they may enjoy using an electric toothbrush. Older children may find it easier to use, especially if they have dyspraxia.