The number of American children diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is estimated to be 78% higher than a decade ago. That amounts to 1 in 88 American children diagnosed with ASD. Furthermore, a study in the Journal of Pediatric Dentistry indicated that over half of all parents with children diagnosed with ASD report their child’s oral health as fair or poor.
Whether at home or in the dental practice, providing dental care for ASD children proves to be particularly challenging. Alongside other healthcare professionals, dentists specializing in ASD, have developed specific techniques, applicable both at home and in the dental office, that provide outstanding oral health for children diagnosed with ASD.
As a Parent, What Can I Do to Help My Child Prepare for His or Her Dental Visit?
The patient’s caregiver is an important part of the Manhattan Family Orthodontics team! At home, the caregiver can prepare the patient for his or her upcoming dentist visit. A parent or caregiver can practice proper brushing and flossing technique with the patient, show the patient pictures of the office to familiarize him or her with the new environment, and be prepared with answers to questions that may be asked by the dental team – see the final three pages of https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/documents/dentalguide.pdf for sample questions that may be asked by the dental provider.
Techniques Employed by Dental Professionals for Children with ASD
Dr. David Tesini helped create the D-Termined Dental Program used for patients with ASD. The program relies on establishing a framework of repetitive tasks and sequential tasking that instills familiarity with the dental visit. The three pillars of the program are: eye contact, educational/positional modeling, and the counting framework.
Eye contact is important to establish in the first or second visit. Doing so establishes the relationship between the dentist and the patient. It demonstrates the patient is paying attention to the dentist and is crucial to maintaining the best patient experience. Direct commands like “Look at me” have been shown to work best.
2) Educational/positional Modeling
Educational modeling involves teaching the patient the most effective body positions so that the dentist can adequately perform procedures. During the patient’s initial visits, steps such as “Hands on your tummy” and “Feet out straight” are consistently reinforced with dental assistants firmly guiding patients. When the patient has mastered these skills, the dentist can be confident that he will be able to successfully complete a routine procedure, such as a teeth cleaning, within the subsequent visits.
3) Counting Framework
The counting framework involves training patients to hold still for a set period of time. Many steps in a routine dental visits can be broken down into ten or twenty second intervals. When the patient successfully completes a step, the dentist or his assistants should give praise to reinforce the positive behavior.
Taken together, at home preparation and the D-Termined program can make sure patients with ASD are receiving the appropriate dental care in a comfortable manner. At Manhattan Family Orthodontics, establishing relationships with our patients and having them feel welcome has always been our priority. We recognize it is important to be aware of the diversity that exists among our patient base, including those with special health needs, and welcome all patients.