Although many children find it hard to get used to going to the dentist, this may be a particular problem for children with autism, who may find the dental environment and treatment experience particularly daunting. If you feel that your family dentist doesn't have the skills or time to work with your child to make them feel comfortable, it may be better to take them to a paediatric dentist.
How the Dental Experience Affects Children With Autism
Although some children on the spectrum have no issues with their dentists, some may have difficulty coping with traditional dental care. According to a Telethon Kids Institute survey of parents of kids with autism, this may pose some problems. Children may develop issues with their dentists, and their oral health may suffer as a result.
For example, the survey found that children on the spectrum might react badly to the typical environment in a dentist's office, disliking the lights, smells and instruments. Without specialist support, they may become scared of visiting the dentist. Communication issues may also have a negative effect on a child's ability to understand the importance of developing a good oral health routine. The survey's results showed that 40% of children from responding families had developed a variety of dental problems, including decay, staining and bad breath.
Is a Paediatric Dentist a Better Option?
Paediatric dentists follow the same training route as regular family dentists; however, they also have specialist training in children's oral health care. According to the Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, a qualified paediatric dentist will have taken at least an extra three years of study after initial qualification in the field. During this additional training, a paediatric dentist learns how to manage the oral health needs of children with special needs, including autism.
Keep in mind that not all autistic children need to visit a paediatric dentist, and you may find that your family dentist can cope with their additional needs. However, if your dentist doesn't have the experience to manage your child's care, a paediatric specialist may be able to fill the gap. If your child has developed concerns over going to the dentist, or if you feel the experience will be too much for them without additional support, it may be worth talking to paediatric dentists in your area to see if your child might benefit from specialist treatment.
Tip: If you're part of an autism support group, or have access to support programs, it's worth asking other parents and agencies for recommendations. For example, other parents of autistic children may have experience with dentists, both at a general and paediatric level, who are good at working with children on the spectrum.