Autism May Affect Dental Care

Autism spectrum disorder may make dental care more difficult

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most kids don’t like going to the dentist or brushing their teeth. Kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have even more problems with oral care.

A recent study asked parents to rate their child’s attitudes and skills regarding dental care. They found that parents of children with ASD reported more struggles than parents of typically developing children.

This was true for both at-home dental care and trips to the dentist. Kids with ASD may need some extra help in learning to take care of their teeth.

"Ask a psychiatrist about ways to promote dental health."

The study was led by Leah Stein, MA and PhD candidate at Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of the University of Southern California, working with senior scientist Sharon Cermak, EdD.

They asked 396 parents to answer a 37 item survey about their child’s oral care at home and at the dentist. Some of the parents had a child with ASD. Some of the parents had a typically developing child. Then they compared the answers of the parents of children with ASD to the answers from parents of typically developing children.

They found that parents of kids with ASD rated problems in all aspects of care.  Compared to parents of typically developing children, parents of kids with ASD reported more difficulty with dental care at home and at the dentist.

The authors concluded that kids with ASD struggle more with dental care than kids without ASD.

dailyRx News spoke with Glen Elliott, MD, PhD, a child psychiatrist about this study. He said, “Many children with autism and related disorders have tactile sensitivities that make teaching them to brush, let alone floss, their teeth range from challenging to impossible, with formal dental care even more difficult.” 

“Behavioral techniques sometimes can be helpful.  Still, good dental care is but one of the “normal” aspects of daily life that parents of these children may find to be an ongoing source of distress.”

This study was published in the September/October issue of Pediatric Dentistry. Sharon Cermak, EdD, senior scientist on the project, has funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

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Review Date: 
December 18, 2012
Last Updated:
April 16, 2014