Are you raising a child with autism spectrum disorder? ASD can present a range of behavioural problems that parents of neurotypical children do not experience, but the health problems it can cause can be even more of a concern. Oral hygiene, in particular, is something many parents and guardians of autistic children struggle with. If your child is reluctant to begin learning a dental routine, here are 5 simple steps to follow which will ease their anxiety and make them more enthusiastic about the process.
Step 1: Prepare the Environment
What's your child's favourite room in the house? Some children with autism are scared by areas they don't frequent often, such as the bathroom. If your child has a place where they feel most comfortable, it's a good idea to begin the toothbrushing process there. You can use a cup or bowl of water instead of a sink. Make sure to make the area comfortable and fun — try playing your child's favourite song or TV show in the background to loosen them up.
Step 2: Massage the Gums
For children with sensory issues, having a foreign thing in the mouth can be scary. Parents may have success with massaging their child's gums before trying to introduce a toothbrush. Try running a clean finger or soft, sterile cloth over your child's gums and teeth. This can feel less invasive and more familiar than a toothbrush, desensitising your child to the brushing feeling.
Step 3: Gradually Introduce the Toothbrush
Children with autism often struggle with changes to their normal routine. It's important to introduce toothbrushes and toothpaste gradually to avoid causing upset to the child. Try using the toothbrush in play to begin with — for example, why not encourage your child to brush the 'teeth' of their teddy bear or doll? The next step may be getting your child to put the toothbrush in their mouth and lick or suck it. Getting your child used to holding the toothbrush will make the actual brushing process less scary.
Step 4: Start Brushing Slowly
When your child is no longer fearful of the toothbrush, you can slowly begin to brush their teeth. Start by brushing just a few teeth and increase the area covered over time. You may find it easier to start brushing without toothpaste or using a more mellow-flavoured 'kids' toothpaste. Once a child gets used to the sensation, they will often enjoy taking over the process themselves.
Step 5: Be Regular
Consistency is important in desensitising autistic children to the dental hygiene process. If you skip days between brushes, brushing may start to feel like a disruption again, which can put you back at square one. Remember to follow at least one of the steps above each day, and don't feel the need to push your child to learn faster than they want to. In time, the process will become as natural as any other in their daily routine. You may be able to speed up the process by using reward charts to motivate your child.
Remember to take your child to see a dentist regularly; dental visits are an essential part of the oral hygiene process, and they can be especially important for children who struggle to keep their teeth clean.
As a mum, I know how essential sport can be to children's development. Through team sports like soccer, kids learn persistence, sportsmanship and the value of supporting their team members. However, all that learning carries some risk as well, and a stray elbow or a ball to the face can result in oral injuries. I have been the mum rushing to the emergency room with a precious permanent tooth sitting in a cup of milk. Admittedly, at the time, I wasn't even sure if the cup of milk was the right solution. As a parent, you will face those situations, and I'm here to make sure you know what to do when they pop up. With this blog, let's explore children's dentistry and sports injuries together... I want you to have the info you need to stay cool, calm and collected, regardless of how many teeth are on the pitch.