People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have special challenges when it comes to dentistry and dental health. What to others may be an ordinary trip to the dentist’s office is filled with triggers that can make an otherwise straightforward appointment difficult. Yet people with ASD need regular cleanings and checkups to ensure good dental health, just like anyone else.
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At the Center for Dental Anesthesia in Alexandria we are committed to providing the same outstanding dental care to people with Autism Spectrum Disorder that we provide to all our other patients.
What Is ASD?
Autism specialists have a saying: If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. In other words, there is no single set of symptoms or characteristics common to autism. This is one of the things that sets it apart.
Autism Spectrum Disorder includes Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. The term spectrum disorder means the condition shows itself in many ways. People with ASD think, learn, and problem-solve in distinct ways, and range from severely challenged to highly skilled.
Broadly speaking, however, people with ASD have the following traits in common:
- Impaired communication
- Tendency toward repetitive behaviors
- Impaired social skills, including poor eye contact and an inability to interpret facial expressions and other social cues.
These characteristics are not present in everyone with ASD. The symptoms and their severity are different from one person to the next.
ASD in and of itself does not typically result in unusual dental health conditions. The rates of tooth decay and gum disease are about the same as in the general population. Certain damaging habits are common, however, such bruxism, tongue thrusting, picking at the gums, and biting the lips. It can also contribute to poor oral hygiene because brushing and flossing may be difficult.
The sights, sounds, and smells of a dental office can trigger adverse reactions in someone with ASD, and what might be an otherwise routine dental appointment can present a number of issues. Because of this, some dental practices are reluctant to accept ASD patients.
Adverse reactions present in many ways. Some are fairly benign: a patient may mimic the sounds heard in the examination room, begin to repeat random words, or repeat the instructions of a caregiver or hygienist. Other patients may become distressed and make the appointment difficult for everyone involved.
Parents or others responsible for the patient find it helpful to prepare for the appointment by developing strategies to head off any problem behavior. The dentist should be provided with a complete medical history of the patient, including not just records, but consultation with family members, caregivers, and physicians.
In addition, caregivers can:
- Arrange a “desensitizing” appointment – that is, an office visit before the scheduled day, to familiarize the patient with the office and staff.
- Tell the dental staff what the best ways to communicate with the patient are, and the best ways to deal with any difficult behavior.
- Schedule the appointment during the time of day the ASD patient functions best.
- Minimize time spent in the office by waiting outside, or in the car; arrange for a staff person to call on a cell phone when they’re ready.
- Role play the appointment.
- Bring a favorite object to occupy or comfort the patient.
Even with these precautions it is best for everyone involved to be prepared. The dental environment and the invasive nature of a checkup can prompt frustration or even stronger reactions in an ASD patient.
CDA: Dental Excellence for All
People with ASD should have regular cleanings and checkups like anyone else. But many dental practices are hesitant to treat children and adults with ASD because the behavioral issues that a dentist’s office can trigger.
At The Center for Dental Anesthesia in Alexandria, treating patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a central part of our practice. Dr. Zeyad Mady and Dr. James Geren are both committed to providing outstanding care, and bring comprehensive backgrounds and training to their work.
The CDA is committed to providing high quality special needs dentistry, including patients with physical and mental disabilities. Our doors are also open to the general public. Please call our office to schedule an appointment.
 “What Is Autism?” from the Autism Speaks website:
https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism. Referred to hereafter as “What Is Autism?”
 “What Is Autism?”
“Practical Oral Care for People with Autism”
https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-09/practical-oral-care-autism.pdf. Referred to hereafter as “Practical Oral Care”
Treating Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”
 “Practical Oral Care,” p. 4.
“Autism Dental Information Guide for Dental Professionals”
 Practical Oral Care.
 Practical Oral Care.