Friday 23 September 2022

Preparing our autistic kids for a trip to the dentist

Kids brushing their teeth

 We all know just how important it is that we take good care of our dental health at every age. Children need to have a good oral hygiene routine in place as soon as possible if they are to grow up with healthy teeth and gums. But it's not always easy, in fact for some of my kids it's anything but. 

Unfortunately, many children, and especially kids who have been diagnosed with autism, hate the feeling of brushing their teeth and flossing to keep their mouths clean and healthy.  Our David had to go to hospital to have extractions when he was just four and a half.  

David is under the care of a community dentist but still find appointments extremely difficult.  Our other autistic son also finds go to the dentist very stressful.  Here's some things we've found out of that can help with taking care of their teeth and preparing for a trip to the dentist. 

Try different toothbrushes and toothpastes

It is really important that children clean their teeth twice a day. If your child hates the feel of the toothbrush in their mouth, one thing you can do is to try out lots of different toothbrushes with different levels of softness of hardness and different styles of handles.   

We've found some of the most helpful ones are those for young children.  They have angled bristles which help clean more of the tooth quicker and they are usually soft too.  However they need replacing often because of this. 

You can even get musical toothbrushes that play a song for two minutes while the kids brush and this can encourage reluctant brushes to see their dental routine as a fun thing, so it may be worth trying that too.

Some toothpaste flavours are really strong especially the minty ones and my eldest autistic son says it actually burns his mouth.  This is probably why David never let a toothbrush into his mouth when he was younger. We've found flavourless and non-foaming toothpaste by Oranurse that transformed being able to brush the kids teeth.  They also do a mild flavour that is actually mild!

We all brush our teeth together so the kids can copy, get help and make it a family activity.

Prepare them for what happens at the dentist and do what you can at home

Although quiet, most dental visits includes a quick turn around, lying down on a strange chair and then having a stranger get really close to your face and put instruments in your mouth.  It's no wonder it puts children and adults alike at unease.  We're so fortunate to have a dentist and a dental nurse in our wider family and it's meant we can prepare the kids for what happens at the dentist before evening going. 

We practice sitting sideways on the sofa and leaning back on the armrests a bit like what happens in the seat at the dentist.  We practice looking in their mouths.  We use a toothbrush to count their teeth, just like they do at a dentist.

Reading books about what happens at the dentist can be great for some kids and having pictures so they know what and hen it is going to happen can also help prepare the kids. 

Our eldest needed his teeth cleaned at the dentist and this involved spraying water in his mouth and using a tool to suck it out again.  This is noisy and feels very odd.  A collegue suggested a water flosser, like a 
Waterpik to try and replicate the feeling of water going into their mouth which I thought could be a good idea too. instead. Waterpiks are generally much gentler and easier to use than floss which is something that is very tricky for us to even try.  

If your child needs braces there are various ones that can be used to straighten teeth at home so again think about what works best.  Invisible aligners is probably a good idea because they will stand out less and might not cause your child as many issues. So many autistic children are very particular about the way they look and anything that changes that can cause distress, which is why invisible braces are often the best choice.

Show them the dentist

Like everything else with our autistic and ADHD kids showing them where they are going and who they are going to meet is really important. It can be difficult but if there is any chance to go to the dentist without having anything done to have a look at the room and meet the dentist this can be really helpful.

If not, see if you can photos of the dentist surgery and the dentist your child will be seeing. One with and without a face mask would be helpful so they can see the person but also see what they will look like when it's time.

Sometimes taking a child along to your own check-up or a siblings check-up can be helpful but best done if you think it's going to be quick and mostly all-clear. 

Despite having dental professionals in the family this is something we still struggle with and put off.  But hopefully these things might help.

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