Home > Awareness, Family Services > Dental Care for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Dental Care for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

This is a guest post by Dr. Michele Savel. Dr. Savel is a pediatric dentist practicing on Long Island, New York who has specialty dental training to work with children who have special needs. Dr. Savel worked with Autism Speaks to help create the Dental Toolkit. To learn more about Dr. Savel please visit:  www.kiddsmiles.com. 

Dr. Michele Savel

Working with children with special needs started at home for me, having a younger brother who is on the autism spectrum. Because of my brother, I have always had a very good understanding for the issues that children with special needs face. I began working with children who have special needs while in my residency program in dental school. It was one of the most challenging aspects of my training in becoming a pediatric dentist but also one of the most rewarding.

Most people and even some dentists assume that these children cannot be treated in a regular dental office environment and therefore unfortunately many do not get proper oral care or they are immediately sent to the operating room to have their dental work done under general anesthesia and even sometimes they are placed in restraints. Of course there are still many children with special needs who we do need to sedate but there are plenty who with the proper approach can have their dental treatment done just like any other person or child.

 The most satisfying part of my practice is when I can take a child who is totally opposed to the dentist and turn them around into actually liking the experience and successfully getting through a visit. A small thing like desensitizing children to the techniques that we utilize in the office is an easy way to get the children to feel more comfortable and thereby make them more cooperative. I often allow parents to take home some dental instruments so that they can practice with their children and make them feel more comfortable. I believe that all children aim to please and if you can get them to succeed even if it is only a small task it will open doors.

Children with special needs just need some extra TLC and patience to break through their walls of trust and once you’ve gotten through it is truly a most rewarding experience.

Learn more about the Dental Toolkit.

  1. Linda Risbrudt, RDH
    June 11, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    As a retired dental hygienist of 35 years and a “grand” to a grand, granddaughter with autism, I am very concerned about dental home care of children with special needs. I applaud the collaboration between Autism Speaks, Colgate and Phillips Sonicare to provide this outstanding, FREE, online, Dental Tool Kit for parents/caregivers. BRAVO! WELL DONE!! Sonicare’s new, child-sized, ultrasonic toothbrush is a huge breakthrough in ultrasonic, dental home care products for children. You can begin on the lowest setting and stay there, if your child tolerates the “tickle”. Don’t give up! Revisit tryinhg another time, if your first attempt is unsuccessful. It may take some time getting used to it. It’s a fabulous tool! Using it dry, without toothpaste, if your child doesn’t like the taste, is OK. It’s well worth the investment in your children’s dental health. It’s the best method for brushing, especially for children with developing motor skills. Preventing dental decay begins at home with daily brushing (and flossing,too). Keep those “sugar bugs” off those teeth! Happy brushing! Nana R.

  2. Patricia
    June 26, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Hi, as a mother of a child on the spectrum and has many sensory issues I dreaded the dentist the most. I made an appointment with our dentist and explained my situation and they felt cofident they could handle him and would take their time and as many visits as nessary. I made a social story book using other pictures of kids at the dentist and read it often. I put the appointment on his calendar and he had 2 months to prepare. He is very good with numbers and at the time liked to be called spongebob, which I let the office know about.

    We went the night before to get a tour and check it out, we bought a neat, cool pair of sunglasses for him to wear to make it more fun and block the bright light. The assistant came out, Kathy and my son wouldn’t look or respond to her. She waited a minute and then said “Spongebob” and my son turned around. Kathy quickly said “Can you help me count your teeth?” and he sat down and they counted, 20 teeth. She then asked if he wanted to see where the prizes were kept and he said yes. She stopped and asked if he wanted to see the chair he was going to get to sit in and he went and sat in it. Kathy was explaining the tools and everything and he layed there and had mouth opened and she said I think he is ready, I am going to go ahead and clean them and take xrays. Chris cooperated and got 3 prizes when we were done and he excalimed, “I love the dentist”. I took pictures of him there and updated his social story book with pictures of him at the dentist and he is fine with going. We didn’t have to go back the next morning. He had 2 cavities and had to make 3 more trips there and was not a problem and we are going again in August. We did this last summer when he was 4 and has never said anything bad about going to the dentist.

    I agree with you 100%. You are right about the TLC. I also asked for women as my son responds better to women and soft spoken voices versus men who can be louder and stronger. I think this is great what you are doing and the need is there. I do believe that the right approach is also the key and for parents to let them know about their child before hand and I am a true believer of social stories even for typical children, most kids hate the dentist and fear them.

    You are in the right job, and I was glad to hear about it and share our experience with our first trip to the dentist. It can be done.

  3. Rachel
    July 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    I took my son, 7, for his third dental visit today. He is high-functioning autistic. We’d found a very good pediatric dentist and I was hopeful that this visit he would finally let them clean his teeth. First visit he let them count his teeth, second visit he would hardly let them get near his mouth. After reading this, I regret not going through the routine you suggested. Since today he struggled and he’s getting so strong, they’re recommending putting him under general anesthesia to get his dental work done. Is there nothing else I can try? I’d love any suggestions — thanks.

  4. September 28, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Rachel! In this care they should be treated with special treatment and need to practice him to clean his teeth everyday. Patience is the key!


  5. September 28, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Rachel! In this case he should be treated with special treatment and need to practice him to clean his teeth everyday. Patience is the key!


  6. November 13, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Applause for you, Dr. Michele…
    I was very impressed when reading your story, because you can make a child who does not like the dentist become very fond of, especially for children with special needs. Services like this are needed. You are indeed very amazing doctor.
    I have 5 years old daughter who always screamed when I took her to the dentist…
    Are there any suggestions for me? Thank you…

  7. January 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    children like him needs an extra patience and extra care..and i salute with that! cheers!

  8. Lacy
    May 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Totally understand what you are going through. And so do others. Google: “A Simple Teeth Cleaning: A Story of Autism and Dental Care”

  9. July 8, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Great post. It should have a special treatment for the children who had an autism spectrum disorders. They need care. Your so great because you can handle the case like that even though you are so busy. Patience is a virtue.

  10. July 30, 2011 at 4:43 am

    Making a children, special or not, to turn into the dentist, encouraging, and making them appreciate and practice dental wellness have always been a challenge to all dentists.

  11. August 3, 2011 at 9:02 am

    I salute you for helping these children especially those in special needs. I admit it was never easy to handle children how much more with those in special needs. You are right it is a very rewarding feeling to help them and to see those smiles in their face.

  12. August 29, 2011 at 5:23 am

    I’m a single mom and I have 2 kids who both needed braces. I make just enough to not qualify Medicaid services. I had to pay over $4800 so that my child can have braces and a beautiful smile. . .She was very scared and timid at school. I couldn’t find anyone in Dallas who would do the braces at a normal price so I had to launch find it with free services like

    http://www.healthsouk.com (HealthSouk)

  13. December 1, 2011 at 3:17 am

    It was amazing , i was really searching for this topic as i wanted this topic to understand completely and it is also very rare in internet that is why it was very difficult to understand thank you for sharing this,

    Cosmetic Dentist Melrose MA

  14. March 7, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Children with special needs really need to be treated specially. I adore you’re clinic for having a trained dentist to give attention to the kids.

  1. June 7, 2010 at 11:26 pm

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