Parents of children with autism have long struggled to find dentists who will treat them outpatient, without being sedated or immobilized.
A 2008 review of about 800 patient charts found that these kids were more likely than others to be uncooperative and to be put under general anesthesia reports a NY Times article . Even cleanings can be challenging, patients becoming overwhelmed by the lights and noises from the instruments such as the saliva ejector.
Continuing education programs are helping dentists and their staff learn about treating children with special needs. As more and more children receive diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, more dentists and hygienists are recognizing that with accommodations many can become cooperative patients. Gallery 57 Dental is one of the practices which successfully treats children diagnosed as autistic.
Dentists have found that when these children are seen very young they can be trained to properly experience dental care and learn to be compliant patients. Regular preventative care can also increase the likelihood that these patients will cooperate, instead of waiting for an emergency to bring them in.
Accommodations have been found to make visits go more smoothly. A randomized pilot study found that using video goggles showing a favorite movie helped reduce stress during cleanings in some patients.
A pediatric dentist in Houston suggested weekly visits to help her patient learn to be cooperative, step-by-step with lots of breaks so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Bribery helped. If she sat calmly for 10 seconds her reward was listening to her favorite song on the IPod. At her last visit she sat calmly for no less than 25 minutes through an entire cleaning, even as purple-gloved hands hovered near her face holding a noisy tooth polisher.