Friday, April 19, 2013

Autism and Dentistry

Autism and Dentistry

Do you floss?  Do you brush 2-3 times per day?  Do you avoid sugary drinks and food?  These are questions Drs. Versman, Heller, and Beckman ask all of their Aurora patients, and although many of them answer ‘Yes’ to all three questions, we know the majority are fibbing.  The sad truth is only 50.5% of Americans floss daily and only about half Americans brush twice a day.  These statistics are retrieved from adults so imagine what kind of dental habits kids have!  There are many variables that can cause people, especially kids or those with special needs, difficulty in developing healthy routines.  Maintaining proper oral care for children is difficult with impromptu tantrums and the need for sugary food and drinks, but autistic children may require a little extra help and motivation in continuing proper oral hygiene. 

April is the month for Autism Awareness, and Drs. Versman, Heller, and Beckman want to share some good advice on how to care for not only your loved one with autism but these philosophies are applicable to all those who cannot answer ‘Yes’ to the previous questions.

 Autism is a brain disorder that affects in varying degrees.  Some autistic children have trouble engaging in social situations, have problems with communication and others can develop repetitive behavioral patterns.   Any one or combination of these symptoms can make an everyday task like brushing teeth a challenge. 

Luckily, those with autism are not necessary known for having complications with oral health, but certain medications or neglecting good routines can increase the chances for periodontal disease and dental caries (cavities).    One of the problems associated with autism is when repetitive behavior causing harm to the oral cavity occurs.  For example, grinding teeth (also known as bruxism), tongue thrusting, lip biting, picking at the gums (gingiva), or eating inedible objects (pica) are not uncommon in autistic children.  These habits are hard to break, and if not avoided, severe problems for oral health are of a concern.  

Grinding teeth and manually picking at the gum line are two sure-fire ways to visit Periodontal Associates’ Aurora office.  These habits, not just common to those with autism, create recession.  Recession can lead to bone loss and eventually the need for dental implants after tooth loss.  Gingival grafting is often performed to cure this problem and create a strong collar of gum tissue.  Usually the graft does not cover the exposed root surface, but creates a strong, protective gum tissue that prevents further recession and sensitivity. Also, Dr. Versman, Dr. Heller, and Dr. Beckman are specialists in providing functional grafts to preserve proper bone and gum health while still providing a cosmetically beautiful smile to be proud of.   

The need for dental implants or gum grafts due to physical damage like eating inedible objects or grinding is concerning, but another worry for parents of children with autism is dental caries.  It is important to start young with home hygiene care, and those with severe autism often struggle with this the most.  Drs. Versman, Heller, and Beckman suggest making the twice a day cleaning process well planned and consistent so your child can anticipate what to expect.   For example, it may be best to frame a guide on the steps to brushing to make the process easy to follow and place it by the bathroom sink.  Also, be sure to avoid giving too many sugary food or drinks as distractions or rewards for certain behaviors.  Those with autism can have picky dietary habits, but a well-balanced diet is crucial for life long oral health.  

The dental office and home care can be intimidating for most Americans, but those with autism or other mental challenges may find these places and activities frightening.  We encourage anyone with fears to take it step by step and come visit Dr. Ken Versman, Dr. Doug Heller, and Dr. Eric Beckman to tour the office and meet the staff.  Introducing autistic patients slowly will better help them adapt to future treatment or cleanings.

For more information, please visit our website at or call us at (303) 755-4500 to get your questions or concerns answered.  Periodontal Associates loves all of our patients from Aurora and the Denver metro area, and we take pride in providing them with a calm environment to help soothe and treat those with even the most severe fears or anxiety. 


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