Dental Health Can Be Tricky For Kids With Autism

Autism behaviors may affect how parents feel about managing oral care for their child

(RxWiki News) Kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have difficulty with oral healthcare. ASD behaviors may influence how parents feel about their own ability to manage their child’s oral care.

A recent study asked parents to rate their child’s communication functions – like talking, reading and listening skills. They also asked the parents how comfortable they felt managing their child’s oral care. The study found that as the level of function in the child increased so did parent’s feelings of comfort with their own ability.

Parents of lower functioning kids may need some extra support from dentists.

"Ask a dentist how to improve your child’s oral health."

The study by Taryn N. Weil, DDS, a dentist in private practice, and Marita Rohr Inglehart, PhD at the University of  Michigan, asked the parents of 85 kids with ASD to complete an internet survey.

All the parents had a kid between the ages of 3 and 21 years old who had been diagnosed with ASD.

The researchers used questions from a standard psych test for ASD. They asked parents to rate their child’s listening skills, reading skills, self-care skills and social skills. Parents were asked to rate how often their child displayed each skill – never, sometimes or usually.

Parents were also asked to rate from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) how healthy their child’s teeth were.

They were also asked to rate (from 1 to 5) how comfortable they were teaching and helping their child to brush, floss and go to the dentist.

The researchers found that only 40 percent of the kids in the study brushed their teeth once a day. Only 44 percent brushed more than once a day.

The lack of daily brushing by many kids in the study may be related to a parent’s struggles with helping and teaching their child. Not all parents were comfortable with teaching or helping their child with oral care.

About 66 percent of parents said they were comfortable teaching their child to brush, and 68 percent said they were comfortable helping their child brush.

Far fewer parents were comfortable teaching their child to floss (35 percent) or helping their child floss (38 percent).

Only about half of the parents, 57 percent, said they were comfortable with dentist visits.

When the researchers looked at how parents rated behaviors in relation to their oral care concerns, they found that how parents felt about oral care was linked to the child’s level of function.

The higher the level of reading, listening, talking and social skills, the better parents rated the overall level of oral care and the better parents felt about helping their child.

Also, as a child’s skill levels went up, the parents also felt more comfortable with visits to the dentist.

The authors concluded that the severity of autism symptoms affects parents comfort and actions in their child’s oral care. Dentists can use this info to support parents that may be struggling.

Parents can talk to their child’s dentist or psychiatrist about how to improve dental care in the context of their child’s symptoms, which could make the experience more comfortable for everyone.

This study used a web-based survey, so it did not include people who do not use the internet. Some cultural or economic groups may not be represented by these findings.

This study was published in the November/December issue of Pediatric Dentistry.  The study was funded by a student fellowship given by the School of Dentistry at the University of Michigan. Conflict of interest information was not available with the study.

Review Date: 
January 4, 2013