Chances are we’ve all heard of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, and now with the World Health Organization estimating that one in 160 children have the disorder, there’s a very good chance you may know a child with this condition. Unfortunately, little is known about what causes ASD, and there is currently no cure for it. Still, many useful therapies have been developed to help children and adults living with ASD, and research continues into the causes and potential treatments.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that often affects social skills, motor skills and other neurological functioning. Now, a new study out of South Africa has found that it may also affect oral hygiene and tooth condition.
The study examined the teeth of children between the ages of 7 and 14 with ASD and found that many of them had swelling or bleeding gums, and over 85 percent had untreated cavities, more than the national average for South African children without ASD.
So what is behind this spike in bad oral hygiene? Researchers believe it is a combination of many factors, including medicines the children may take. These medications often cause side effects that affect the teeth, including dry mouth, which can increase harmful bacteria in the mouth.
Another cause may be teeth grinding, a behavior exhibited by many persons with ASD. Teeth grinding can chip and crack tooth enamel, breaking the teeth and eroding their protection against cavities.
Another cause may simply be hygiene issues. Studies in the United States have found that patients with ASD often do not visit the dentist as frequently as those without the condition, due to difficulties in treating them. Some patients do not easily allow treatment, while others suffer from overall hygiene difficulties and often neglect oral and other basic hygiene.
So, what can be done to help these patients receive better oral health care? Caregivers should work with their dental team to brainstorm solutions to this serious issue. Teaching persons with ASD to care for their teeth, or to become comfortable with a caregiver caring for their teeth, is of paramount importance, as is getting patients comfortable with visiting the dentist. If you or a loved one is having difficulty attending dental appointments or caring for teeth, speak with Dr. Abelar about ways to make this easier on the patient and on you as the caregiver.
To speak to Dr. Abelar or to schedule an appointment, please contact us at 858-523-1400.