Oral Health Problems in Autism and Strategies for Care

People with autism experience a few unusual oral health conditions. Although commonly used medications and damaging oral habits can cause problems, the rates of caries and periodontal disease in people with autism is higher as compared to those in the general population. Communication and behavioral problems pose the most significant challenges in providing oral care. Today I would like to review some of the most common oral health problems associated with autism and strategies to tackle them.


Damaging oral habits

Damaging oral habits are common and include bruxism (teeth grinding); tongue thrusting; self-injurious behavior such as picking at the gingiva or biting the lips; and eating objects and substances such as gravel or pens. Consider giving a mouth guard for patients who have problems with self-injurious behavior or bruxism.


Dental caries

Dental caries risk increases in patients who have a preference for soft, sticky, or sweet foods; damaging oral habits; and difficulty brushing and flossing.

  1. Fluorides and sealants are recommended as preventive measures.
  2. Be aware of medicines that reduce saliva or contain sugar. Advise the patients to drink water often and rinse with water after taking any medicine.
  3. Caregivers are advised to offer alternatives to cariogenic foods and beverages as incentives or rewards.
  4. Encourage independence in daily oral hygiene. Monitor their oral hygiene habits.
  5. Some patients cannot brush and floss independently. Sometimes an electric toothbrush can be useful.


Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease occurs in people with autism in much the same way it does in persons without developmental disabilities.

  1. Some patients benefit from the daily use of an antimicrobial mouth rinse.
  2. Conscientious oral hygiene and frequent prophylaxis is recommended.


Tooth eruption

Tooth eruption may be delayed due to phenytoin-induced gingival hyperplasia. Phenytoin is commonly prescribed for people with autism.


Trauma and injury

Trauma and injury to the mouth from falls or accidents occur in people with seizure disorders. Traumas require immediate professional attention. Locate any missing pieces of a fractured tooth. Radiographs of the patient’s chest may be necessary to determine whether any fragments have been aspirated.


Making a difference in the oral health of a person with autism may go slowly at first, but determination can bring positive results–and invaluable rewards. By adopting these strategies discussed significant impact can be achieved not only on the patients’ oral health but on their quality of life as well.


About the author:

Dr. Paresh Lotlekar is the Founder and CEO at Studio32 Dental Care Pvt. Ltd. He has completed his BDS from Goa Dental College and Hospital and MDS from the prestigious KLE University, Belgaum. He offers passionate insight and smart advice on oral health and wellness through his blogs. Connect with him at drpareshlotlekar@gmail.com.

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