Autism friendly dental care

Monday 11 November

Children with autism are able to receive tailored dental care reducing the need for general anaesthesia thanks to a new SA Dental Service program that educates staff on the sensory needs of each child.

SA Dental Service Executive Director, Mark Chilvers, said the ‘Creating an Autism Friendly Dental Setting’ program is essential in local dental clinics to ensure all children have access to equal care regardless of any complex needs.

“The program educates dental staff about the sensory challenges autistic children face daily, especially within the dental environment, which can cause negative feelings about visiting a dentist and impact on their oral health,” Mr Chilvers said.

“The online training uses filmed clinical scenarios to assist dental teams in understanding the complexities of autism and provide strategies on how to create a more positive experience for young clients with autism.

“We are aiming to reduce the number of children who are referred for dental treatment under general anaesthesia by increasing the number of autistic children treated at their local dental clinic in a safe and comfortable environment.

“The whole dental team works together to form relationships with autistic children and their carers to address the needs of the child to improve their oral health and overall wellbeing.”

Statewide Dental Services Chief Dental Officer, Dr Stuart Marshall, said the training provides practical strategies for the team to help the child and their carer prepare for appointments and establish realistic, achievable goals together for each dental visit.

“We are supporting dental teams to ensure autistic children have a positive experience at every interaction with the clinic, which increases the likelihood of better oral health outcomes,” Dr Marshall said.

“Achieving good oral health for autistic children will improve their overall wellbeing and reduce their exposure to potentially extensive dental and medical treatments in the future.

“Thanks to the training, staff are more confident and equipped in treating autistic children, and while the focus of the training is on dental treatment for autistic children, the strategies can be applied to autistic adults and clients with special needs, dental phobia or anxiety.

“The training also provides a toolbox of tips and ‘take home’ strategies, enabling the clinician to work with the child and their carers to receive dental treatment in their local clinic.”