Management of Autistic Children at The Dentist

Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have impaired social interaction and limited communication abilities, combined with a restricted amount of activities and interests. While parents are often able to manage them in familiar places and situations like the home, it becomes difficult to do the same outside, especially when visiting specialized healthcare providers including dentists.

Considering that 1 in ever 30 Indian children displays signs of ASD, pediatric dentists are very sensitive to their dental needs and specialized management. Even so, parents have a large role to play in ensuring all procedures go smoothly, and children come away with the least amount of stress and mental trauma.

Dentists managing autistic children are aware of them exhibiting specific observable behavior;

IMPAIRED SOCIAL RESPONSE – Children are unable to read and respond to feelings and experiences, with absolute no understanding most times

IMPAIRED COMMUNICATION – Children are unable to use and understand gestures, repetition of words (echolalia) and a rigid body stance is often displayed

Besides the atypical behavioral and impaired communication skills that are observed and need careful handling, below are often the main dental problems that such children exhibit;

* Bruxism or teeth grinding, often when asleep or the child isn’t aware of it

* Tongue thrusting or repeated tongue movements

* Chewing at all odd times without presence of food

* Self-injury, where pinching gums, biting lips and creating wounds is common

* Erosion of teeth

* Caries, when teeth aren’t brushed thoroughly because the child finds it unpleasant

* Poor oral care at home, because of difficulty in managing the child

* Limited dietary preferences. Autistic children have very strong likes and dislikes (Only pureed food, no vegetables, dislike of particular vegetable color, etc.)

Management of an Autistic Child at the dentist, can be divided into two phases;


  • It is important to plan a desensitizing appointment with the dentist to help the child familiarize themselves with the doctor and the staff
  • Allow the child to bring things that can comfort them, a favorite blanket, stuffed toy or even hold the parent’s hand
  • Parents need to discuss with the doctor about the child’s tolerance to pain and discomfort, and their threshold
  • Share the child’s intellectual and understanding abilities with the doctor, so that they can phrase sentences or relate with the child accordingly


  • The dentist will communicate with the child at a level he/she can understand. They use phrases such as ‘Tell’, ‘Do’, ‘Show’ when explaining any procedures or methods, always speaking in clear, precise tones
  • Oral examination is begun with only fingers first, while the hard feel of dental instruments is brought in later
  • Dental instruments are only shown later. Suddeness of movements by the dentist is kept to a minimum and light is kept away from the child’s face. Sensory input of any kind is kept as less as possible to avoid distraction
  • Dentists place same staff at all examinations and interruptions are kept minimal
  • Child’s co-operative behavior is always encouraged with positive words and nods
  • The child’s unusual body movements are always observed and pre-empted

Most pediatric dentists are aware of the extra care and effort it takes to manage autistic children, and are extra cautious while carrying out any kind of dental procedures. As a parent, it is important to know what to expect, understand how the process can be made easy and prepare the child for any kind of dental visit.

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