For many parents of children with autism, regular trips to the family dentist can be difficult at best — and impossible at worst.
The unfamiliar environment, bright lights, strange noises and break in routine of general dentistry services are often enough to make an autistic child frightened, even panicked.
For 13-year-old Camryn Cunningham, an autistic child, routine dental cleanings would sometimes end in her running from the office, the New York Times reports. As a result, it was difficult to find a dentist for children who would care for her, Nicole Brown, Camryn’s mother, said.
That changed when Brown took her daughter to the office of Dr. Amy Luedemann-Lazar, a pediatric dentist in Houston. According to the New York Times, Dr. Luedemann-Lazar stood apart from every other dentist for children Camryn had visited because she didn’t suggest sedation dentistry or immobilization for her teeth cleanings.
Instead, Dr. Luedemann-Lazar encouraged weekly visits during which Camryn could gradually learn how to cooperate with a dental check-up. These lessons went step-by-step, with frequent breaks to ensure Camryn wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
“If she sat calmly for 10 seconds, her reward was listening to a snippet of a Beyoncé song on her sister’s iPod,” theNew York Times reports.
The end result of Dr. Luedemann-Lazar’s efforts? This month, Camryn sat through a 25-minute teeth cleaning calmly and without incident.
Dr. Luedemann-Lazar is one of the few dentists willing to work with autistic children; according to the New York Times, in a 2005 study, about three-fifths of dentists studied reported that they refused to care for children on the autism spectrum. Two-thirds of dentists wouldn’t care for adults on the spectrum, either.
Yet this trend is starting to change as more children are diagnosed with autism, with researchers studying how to make these patients most comfortable with visits to the dentist.
Dr. Elizabeth Shick, a dentist for children, contributed to a dentists’ tool kit for advocacy organization Autism Speaks that includes information on caring for autistic children. The 146-page guide, published in 2012, has been downloaded more than 4,000 times, the New York Times reports. It’s just one of the growing number of resources available for dental professionals looking for help with treating autistic patients.
“Very often, parents believe that their child is not ready to go to the dentist and has behavioral problems that the dental team won’t be able to manage,” Dr. David Tesini, a Massachusetts dentist whose D-termined DVD program that helps dentists learn how to care for uncooperative children has been used in a number of dental practices — including Dr. Luedemann-Lazar’s — told the New York Times. “It’s wrong. That’s the message we have to get out.”