The month of April has been formally recognized as Autism Awareness Month by Congress since 1984 but was started in the early 1970s by the Autism Society. According to the CDC, autism is the fastest growing severe developmental disability in the United States. One in every 68 babies born in the United States will be diagnosed with autism. This rate has increased drastically since 2014 when it was one in 125 births.
The Autism Society describes ASD, or autism spectrum disorder, as a developmental disability that affects everyone differently but can involve difficulty with language, reasoning, motor skills and sensory sensitivities. In addition, difficulty making eye contact and engaging in conversation along with very specific and intense interests can be associated with autism.
With all of the challenges that families of children with ASD face daily, the struggles of oral health and hygiene often becomes something that falls out of focus during Autism Awareness Month. This April, we want to help families find ways to improve their at-home oral care routine and make their visits to the dentist easier and less stressful, says Dr. Ken Collins of Collins Family Dentistry in Spokane, Washington.
“One of the most important things in childhood dental care is to start early so it becomes a habit,” Collins said. “Get kids used to brushing as soon as they have a tooth. You can even start before any teeth break through by wiping the gums with a washcloth. Then, as they get older, it’s so ingrained in their routine it’s less likely to become a fight.”
Creating healthy oral hygiene habits can be challenging for families affected by ASDs. The sensory sensitivity that often accompanies autism can make brushing difficult for both the child and the caregiver. In the Autism Speaks’ Dental Guide they suggest the following tips:
Having a consistent, oral hygiene routine at home is one of the most important parts of keeping teeth healthy. Professional cleanings are also essential, however, to clean spaces we can’t reach or miss in our daily routines and to monitor for any bigger problems that may be forming.
“We like to see kids start coming to the dentist around their first birthday, as that’s what the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends,” Collins said. “This also helps them become comfortable with the process of a dental cleaning and checkup. If they come twice a year starting when they’re little, it just becomes a normal, easy-going habit that keeps them healthy as they grow and mature.”
For those with children who are older, you may be wondering what to do now to help your children prepare for dental visits. Autism Speaks offers the following suggested tips in their guide for preparing a child with ASD for their visit to the dentist.
The guidebook reminds caregivers to provide rewards and distractions when possible to reinforce a positive experience.
Since autism affects each individual differently, some may not mind visits to the dentists while others may find them stressful. The same applies to home hygiene routines. Hopefully, with resources like Autism Speaks, The Autism Society and dentists with a special place in their heart for those affected by ASD, every family can find a way to have a healthy and happy oral care experience this April.
Or office in Spokane is located at:
3151 E. 28th Ave.
Spokane, WA 99223
Office phone # 509-368-7788