Dental issues are something that most people experience at some point in their life. A lot of these issues can be prevented by practicing good dental hygiene. However, because of sensory issues, oral health for patients with autism can be difficult. I’ve been practicing family dentistry for 17 years and my staff and I personally work closely with patients and their needs. Each person is different, and we like to accommodate their specific needs the best we can. I like to make families aware of some of the common dental issues that occur in patients with autism so they can work to treat or prevent them.
1. Early or late tooth decay
Tooth decay is a common dental issue that can happen to anyone. It’s caused by acidic damage to the tooth structure produced by bacteria that live in plaque and causes tooth pain. In patients with autism, some have difficulties communicating their pain which may make it harder to discover that tooth decay is happening. By finding a special needs dentist and making regular visits, tooth decay should be easily avoided and treated.
There are many resources available to find an amazing special needs dentist. Your primary health care provider may have recommendations on dentists that specialize in working with patients with autism. Ask anyone you know with children or family members that are autistic. They may have some great recommendations for dental care. Going online is also a great way to find the right dentist. The American Dental Association is a great resource because it allows you to search for dentists by location and specialty.
2. Gingival overgrowth
Patients with autism may suffer from Gingival overgrowth. This condition is an abnormal overgrowth of the gingival tissues. Gums affected by this are often tender, soft, red, and bleed easily. Effective oral hygiene practices such as tooth brushing and flossing can sometimes help with this condition.
Having a great toothbrush can make having a dental care routine easier. A brush with soft, natural bristles may help with any sensitivity one feels when brushing their teeth. Sometimes an electric toothbrush with soft vibrations can have a calming effect when brushing teeth. Try out a few and decide which works best.
3. Severe, early periodontal gum disease
Periodontal gum disease damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth. It’s a common oral condition that can be preventable with proper care. You may notice symptoms such as sensitive, swollen or puffy gums and loose teeth.
For those with autism who suffer from periodontal gum disease, it’s essential that they brush twice a day, floss, and visit a dentist regularly. This can improve their chance of successful treatment. Building a dental care routine can be difficult, especially if there are any anxieties surrounding it. However, it’s important not to give up. Figure out how to make it more enjoyable and stay persistent. Soon enough, a dental care routine should feel like second nature.
4. Constant teeth grinding, or “bruxism”
Constant teeth grinding, or bruxism, especially over a long period of time, can put patients with autism at risk for even greater dental issues such as jaw pain and worn-down teeth. It may be difficult to break this habit, especially if the habit is anxiety related. Being patient and trying to break the habit is the best way to avoid any further damage. You may benefit from finding a distraction such as oral fidgets or other sensory toys to help lessen teeth grinding habits.
5. Pits, discoloration, lines, or other developmental defects in teeth
Pits, discoloration, lines, and other developmental defects are common in individuals with autism. A pit is a small depression on the surface of the tooth mostly found on the teeth in the back of the mouth. The discoloration is yellowing or browning of the tooth. Lines are tiny fractures in the enamel that cause vertical lines on the teeth.
These conditions are usually genetic, so preventing them is difficult. Luckily, there may be options for treatment. A simple teeth whitening can help lessen many of these conditions, but composite resin or porcelain veneers can also be used. The process for getting resin or veneers is usually a lot longer than standard teeth whitening. Discuss treatments with your dentist to find what will be best.
Most people experience a dental issue at some point in their life. For patients with autism, it may be more difficult to resolve oral related conditions. Becoming comfortable with basic dental care and developing a good relationship with a special needs dentist can help to deal with any issues that you may face. The most important thing to remember is how essential it is to instill good dental hygiene practices from a young age for a healthy mouth for life.