Many dental professionals, regardless of their position, can agree that working with individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum can be both difficult and an adventure, especially if you have not completed any courses designed specifically to work with such a special population.
The people who happen to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, are all unique in their behaviors and in the attention that they need, which makes routine dental care very difficult when you don’t know how this person will react to various care options that are available to them.
Many people who are placed in a category that defines them as having a mental disorder or are on the spectrum have a higher probability of caries and periodontal diseases. Dental Service Utilization and Barriers to Dental Care for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Jordan: A Case-Control Study is an attempt to identify and define the unique dental needs that a person with ASD may have and, perhaps, contribute to a plan of action to increase their quality of life by decreasing the negative effects that occur when the person is physically and mentally unable to fully complete their own dental care.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Barriers
It has been proven, many times, that patients on the spectrum have a severe increase of periodontitis and caries when compared to the rest of the population. It is also true that dental hygiene and restorative treatment can be extremely difficult with many of these patients.
Many barriers that people on the spectrum face when it comes to dental care are unique to the individual and many dental practitioners lack the proper training and specific experience that would help these individuals feel safe, which is a large concern and a cause for behavioral issues. This isn’t just true in Jordan, where this particular study takes place, but is true of all countries, regardless of their education standards.
Individuals on the spectrum feel safe in their strict day-to-day routines that do not include dental visits. Their parents and caregivers report feeling embarrassed about their child’s condition, especially if the patient’s disorder is considered severe, and they cannot communicate effectively with their caregiver.
These patients may be feeling pain that they cannot share with us.
The barriers on our end include a lack of knowledge on how to treat and react to such individuals while not having a room in our offices designated and designed with our ASD patients in mind.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Habits Can Affect Dental Health
ASD can cause physical deformities and behaviors that directly hinder the growth of healthy and correctly aligned teeth. Adult teeth may be slow to erupt and bruxism is common, especially when certain behaviors tend to be repeated over and over.
In more severe cases, some patients have also displayed repeated chewing movements and tongue thrusting while they were not eating anything, leading to attrition, and exacerbating any TMD issues that may be present.
Certain medications have been known to affect the health of their teeth, as medications can do to any of us. Self-harm is often reported and is injurious on the mouth. Many of these patients may not have the ability to care for their own teeth or remember to do so if they are able. Their behaviors and actions while in our chair are also barriers, even though they may not be effectively controlled.
What Can We Do?
Research shows that one of the most beneficial actions we can take for these patients is to provide the least traumatic environment available with plenty of hands-on activities and visual stimulation that are not overwhelming. The same dentist and hygienist need to work with them each time because a routine at the dental office is essential for lowering their anxiety and decreasing any negative actions they may have while being there.
Researchers have called for special training in dental schools that educate future dentists and hygienists on how to take care of special needs patients, especially for those patients on the spectrum. ASD is different from every other condition you may come across and needs to be addressed in that way.
Universally acknowledged standards of care and specially trained staff are essential to decrease the serious levels of periodontitis and caries in our patients with ASD, and for a less traumatic dental experience while in our chairs. If you have not had training or been educated on how to treat and work with ASD patients, it’s worthwhile to obtain as much knowledge as you can through research and CE courses.