Oral hygiene is an essential part of a person’s overall health, but it can often be a struggle for children with autism, particularly among those with sensory issues. For example, the taste and texture of toothpaste and the toothbrush may be difficult for some children to handle, making it hard to incorporate best practices in dental hygiene as part of their daily routine. For parents struggling to help their child maintain their oral health, we sat down and spoke with Travis Nelson, DDS, MPH and have created a video that offers tips and tricks on how to overcome the challenges you may be experiencing with your child on this matter.

We have also outlined some of these recommendations below:

  • Brush teeth at least once daily. Maintaining a healthy mouth can be achieved by brushing the teeth at least once a day, but if you are able to brush more often, great!
  • Use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste is one of the best tools available to fight tooth decay. Try experimenting with different brands and flavors to find one that your child likes. If your child is not able to tolerate the taste or texture of the paste, you can try dipping the toothpaste in a fluoride containing mouth rinse to reduce the foam.
  • Create a daily routine. Make daily oral hygiene a part of your home routine and consider requesting that it be added to your child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) during school. This will help to establish consistency and predictability in your child’s schedule.
  • Minimize sugary snacks. Children who eat sugar frequently are more likely to get cavities. We recommend snacks such as fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, cold cut meats, nuts and plain popcorn. It is likely that your child may have a limited number of foods that they prefer, but when possible, substitute sugar-free versions – including drinks!

Regular dentist visits are another aspect of maintaining good oral health. Most pediatric dentists regularly treat children with autism. Be sure to let the dentist’s office know that your child has autism as they may be able to make special accommodations such as seeing you in a private area that is less stimulating. If you have a difficult time finding a dentist, ask your child’s physician for a referral.

Prior to your child’s visit with their dentist, there are several ways you can prepare. First, we recommend talking with the dentist’s office about what to expect. It might also be a good idea to schedule an introductory visit for your child to see the office and meet the staff before any treatment is performed. It is also helpful to set expectations with your child about what a dental visit will include. Finally, if your child uses an iPod or iPad, there are apps available that might be helpful in preparing for a dental visit, such as Off We Go- Going to the Dentist (by Kiwa Media) or encouraging dental hygiene, like My Healthy Smile (by Fraser).

As we have mentioned before, all children are different and certain treatment methods or recommendations that might work for one child often do not for another. The UW Center for Pediatric Dentistry is currently working with experts from the Seattle Children’s Autism Center on a project that aims to improve interactions in the dental office as well as oral home care for children with autism. The study is still in its infancy, but the hope is to learn more about techniques and approaches to improve oral health for children with autism.

If you have any tips or tricks that have worked for your child, we encourage you to share them in our comments section.