Tips To Treat Autistic Children In The Dental Office

If you are a dentist, then you cater to a wide range of patients. Some individuals you treat may have chronic disorders, anxieties, or mental problems that cause difficulties during routine exams. If you treat children, then you should understand that some of your patients may also have developmental problems. Conditions like autism can bring about some unique challenges during even the most routine appointments. It is your job to make sure that patients receive the dental care they deserve, so keep reading to find out how you can make appointments easier for autistic patients.

Reduce Stimuli in the Office

People with autism often have a variety of sensory sensitivities. This occurs because they cannot tune out irrelevant or inconsequential forms of stimuli and this causes an increase in brain activity across the cortex. When the brain becomes overactive in this way, then overstimulation can occur. This can lead to agitation and emotional outbursts. Also, some forms of stimuli are not interpreted properly by the brain and this can cause confusion. Autistic individuals are unable to communicate their concerns and distresses in a verbal manner, and this can lead to a disastrous dental appointment.

If an autistic patient is scheduled for a dental appointment, then consider reducing the following stimuli.

  • Sounds - Turn off all radios, televisions, and intercoms within the office to create a quiet environment. Also, try to arrange appointments either early in the morning or after lunch when fewer patients will be in the dental waiting room.
  • Smells - Ask employees to avoid the use of lotions, perfumes, scented shampoos, and other items that may release odors into the dental office. Also, consider using chocolate or bubble gum flavored toothpastes and rinses instead of strong smelling and tasting peppermint or mint varieties.
  • Touch Sensations - Try to use smooth plastic guards on patient chairs instead of paper coverings and utilize plastic protectors around the neck. Also, use toothpastes with baking soda abrasives instead of silica agents to reduce gritty sensations in the mouth.

During dental appointments, you may also want to offer headphones to reduce drill sounds. The use of essential oils can also overwhelm other more unpleasant smells and produce a calming effect. Lavender is a good choice to calm patients, and you can place several drops of the oil in an aromatherapy burner. Make sure to ask the parent or guardian of the autistic patient if these are good options.

Provide a Safe Environment

People with autism thrive on safe places, routines, and familiar people. These things help to reduce anxieties, fears, and confusion. When a new place or situation is encountered, then the autistic individual becomes unsure of how to act or feel. Data cannot be processed quickly because it is new, and the patient may want to flee to a safe space.  

Use Demonstrations and a Gentle Approach

To provide safety, invite parents into the exam room and ask the parent to bring a blanket, stuffed animal, or other item that is typically used to self soothe. Once the patient is seated, show them the tools you will use. Turn on drills, sprayers, and suction tools so that noises can be heard. Explain in detail what each tool is called and how it will be used. Ask the parent to repeat information, because autistic children often look towards familiar people to understand their environments better.

If the child seems receptive to oral care, then begin cleaning the teeth gently. Offer positive feedback during the exam and look for signs of agitation. If the patient becomes irritable, stop the exam immediately and make another appointment to complete the exam. It may take several appointments to complete a cleaning, but the patient will become familiar with you and the office over time and trust will be gained.

If you are a dentist who treats children, then you may find yourself treating an autistic patient once in a while. This can be difficult for you, the patient, and the parents of the child. Consider the information in this article to reduce difficulties during routine exams.