Dental Hygiene & the Child with Autism

The number of children born with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is on the rise. ASD is the third most common developmental disability in the U.S. and occurs more often in boys than girls. The symptoms and severity differ with each child and can be very challenging for a parent or caregiver.

Autistic kids may have more dental problems because of medications, diet, injurious behaviors, etc. so it is important to develop a dental hygiene routine as early as possible, preferably when they’re babies.

The following are suggestions compiled from a variety of sources. You’ll have to adapt them to your child’s abilities. And remember to praise your child and yourself for every small victory!

  • Start by wiping the teeth and gums with damp gauze or a finger toothbrush.
  • If your child is extremely sensitive, start by touching his lips or inside his mouth for a few seconds twice or more a day. Build up to brushing.
  • For older kids that tend to bite down, it’s suggested to guide their hand and use their finger to perform the task.
  • Brushing their teeth doesn’t have to be done in a bathroom. Do it wherever your child is most comfortable & cooperative.
  • Use the “tell, show, do” method.
  • Create a picture book of you & your child having fun brushing and read it together every day. Do the same with flossing.
  • Avoid fluoride toothpaste for kids that can’t spit it out, especially if you live in an area with fluoridated water.
  • If your child objects to toothpaste, try a mouth rinse like Act.
  • Once your child has accepted brushing, start with flossing.
  • One grandmother, a retired dental hygienist, had great success getting her autistic granddaughter to use the new Sonicare For Kids electric toothbrush. It does an excellent job of cleaning teeth if they can stand the “tickle”.

Every ASD child is unique and through trial & error and perseverance you’ll find a way to establish a dental hygiene routine. An occupational therapist can also be a tremendous help.


A trip to the dentist can be an ordeal for any child but even more so for an ASD child! Because of side effects from medications, damaging oral habits (clenching, grinding teeth, etc.) diet, dental hygiene issues, and very often difficulty accessing dental care, an autistic child may need to see a dentist more often.

Finding a dentist, pediatric or general, who has experience with autistic children can be very difficult! Friends and medical professionals are good resources for referrals. Another good one is the Autism Speaks Family Services Resource Guide . For a list of pediatric dentists check the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Prep Work

If you’re going to be taking your child to a new dentist, it’s a good idea to schedule a consultation to check out the dental office without your child. This will give you an opportunity to discuss your child’s skills and challenges with the dentist & the staff. This will also give you a good idea as to whether or not this is the right dental office for your child. You want them to understand your child’s individual needs so they can tailor the treatment to suit your child’s abilities rather than disabilities. This would also be a good time to pick up the paperwork so you can have it completed for the actual appointment.

Ask them if it’s possible to have an ‘orientation’ visit with your child before the actual appointment to meet the dentist & staff. Ideally, the staff will let him sit in the dental chair if he’s willing. A dental office that is experienced with ASD kids will want to familiarize your child with the office, staff, and equipment so that the actual visit will be less stressful.


Things you can do to help prepare your child for his dental appointment:

  • Reading a book or watching a video about going to the dentist.
  • Buy a disposable dental mouth mirror from the pharmacy and practice looking into your child’s mouth.
  • Some dentists may let you borrow some “tools” to let your child become accustomed to them.

The Appointment

Hopefully, you will have scheduled an appointment for the quietest part of the day, preferably in a private exam room. And you’ll have all the paperwork filled out ahead of time. Some tips to help ease anxiety:

  • Bring a favorite toy or music.
  • Wearing a weighted x-ray vest may be comforting.
  • Headphones with music can help block noise.
  • Sunglasses can help reduce harsh lights.
  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) reduces anxiety and provides a degree of analgesia, amnesia, and reduction in the gag reflex.

Check These Out

Personal Child Stories offers custom-written, hand crafted books. We write stories based on the child’s needs: positive behavior-modification books (biting, hitting, aggression, sibling rivalry, etc), sequencing for ASD, social stories, sibling books, new baby stories, potty training books, counting, name recognition, ABC’s, colors, explaining a medical condition or divorce and much more.

A Trip to the Dentist through Pinatta’s View
Things look a little different when you’re a small child! Filmed from just 40 inches high, children can come along on a trip to the real dentist’s office and see from Emily’s point of view exactly what things look like. They’ll meet the dentist and hygienist, see the tools they use, ride in the dentist’s chair and get excited about going to their own dentist appointment! VHS & DVD.

Smile Wide, Look Inside offers a glimpse into Nicole’s fun (yes, fun!) and informative trip to the dental office. She learns about the various tools that will be used to clean, polish and examine her teeth. Young children, and their parents too, will benefit from this story that effectively relieves the fear and anxiety of an impending visit to the dentist. Written by a mom & dental hygienist, available in English & Spanish.

Share Your Tips

If you have a tip that could help another parent or caregiver of an ASD child, please share it! If you have a question or comment, please feel free to post that as well.