Looking at CJ’s handsome face (and adorable smile), I felt blessed to be working with CJ and his loving family, finishing his braces. CJ is one of only 0.07% of children in the world diagnosed with autism.
Parents of autistic children are often perplexed by the multitudes of information they receive regarding how to best care for their child’s health. Dental care in autistic children in particular is a topic few professionals know how to handle. Autism, which occurs in approximately 7 out of every 10,000 children, is a developmental brain disorder usually affects a child’s communication, language and social interaction skills, making it quite difficult for many children suffering from autism to thrive in a medical environment.
The factors associated with autism which make dental care particularly difficult are restrictive and compulsive behaviors, like the inability to stay seated for an extended period of time and limited focus and/or interest. Braces pose a particularly unique challenge: the semi-permanent nature of dental braces must remain on the teeth for at least several months (usually longer). Because autistic children often have a hard time reacting to change, they may become alarmed by the presence of dental braces – some autistic children have even forcefully removed their braces themselves with pliars (extremely dangerous). With risks such as these, is it possible for autistic children to handle braces?
The answer is absolutely, if you do your homework. Finding a dental professional who is attuned to the special needs of autistic patients, who has the patience and level of experience to properly (and gently) care for autistic patients is key. Upon taking your autistic child to a new dentist, let your child know the dentist is his or her friend. The dental professional should give a tour of the practice to you and your child, and the dental professional should spend some time with the child (and the parent): a farmiliar environment will help to sooth an autistic child’s mind. For this reason, the first appointment should be short and positive. By using models, your dentist should be able to easily communicate with your child (showing versus telling). Also, stimming (flailing of limbs, rocking, screaming) is common when the senses are overloaded and the child becomes stressed. By eliminating surrounding sounds, people and general “crowdedness,” your dental professional should create a serene and calm environment for you and your child. Finally, autistic children like to know what is happening, and what will happen next. Your dentist should communicate with you and your child during any procedures what is happening.
Choosing the right dental professional for an autistic patient is vital, but once you do, dental braces should not be a problem! A caring spirit and a gentle touch will make all the difference.