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by Noelle Copeland February 15, 2022 5 min read

DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. While some with autism struggle in certain areas, others with autism do not. I have had autistic patients who loved to have their teeth cleaned, and I’ve had patients that would resist and refuse to sit in the chair. There is no one set of recommendations I can offer for oral care, and it is so individualized that it requires patient-specific planning. I highly recommend Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA Therapy) if you have a loved one with autism or any cognitive-acceptance barriers and you are struggling with providing self-care practices. I also recommend you start as soon as possible.

According to ABA, when a "desired behavior" is performed and backed up by something the individual values, it is more likely to be repeated. This type of therapy encourages positive behavior change over time that helps people work on tasks and skills that provide more independence and success.
Studies in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) have proven there are tried and true ways to create positive dental experiences for individuals with autism.

ABA therapy techniques for oral care

  • Discrete Trial Training:

Discrete trial training can help patients develop social and behavioral skills. The ABA Therapist will provide a cue, ask for the desired behavior, and reward the behavior with positive reinforcement. This is an excellent method for encouraging oral care acceptance at home. The cue can be music, sounds, or something sensory attentive for the individual.

  • Modeling:

This method involves demonstrating the desired behavior or providing a video/audio example of expectations. Modeling can be demonstrative by providing a way for the autistic individual to perform the intended task on someone or something else. Toothbrushing a favorite toy or even utilizing a typodont can be very helpful. A typodont is a model of the teeth and gums used in dentistry to demonstrate brushing, flossing, and other types of treatment to patients. A typodont can be easily ordered online by anyone, and you can even find typodonts that are attached to teddy bears or other cuddly characters.

  • Reinforcement Systems:

Reinforcement systems teach individuals about the negative consequences of underperforming behaviors. For example; If the individual doesn't engage in the desired behavior, like toothbrushing, prompt them again, and if they continue to resist, withhold reinforcement until the behavior is performed.

ABA Therapy Techniques for Visiting the Dentist

  • Explain the planned visit in a relatable way: pictures, videos, books, etc.
  • Describe what may happen and reinforce behavior expectations.
  • Clarify that all doctors and therapists are on the same page concerning your loved one and that the supporting staff understands the expectations around the appointment.
  • Bring headphones to lessen noise and sunglasses to reduce the glare of operatory lights. Also, incorporate any other soothing objects that may help ease tensions during care. Squishies, stuffed toys, pillows/blankets, music…whatever may help that would not be at the dental office already.
  • Visit and talk to the dentist and staff to get to know them before the appointment. Meet and talk, introduce the building and the area, schedule a smile visit that can be all fun and no work. Also, consider finding a dentist who only sees special needs individuals.
  • Don't set goals. Focus on progress instead. It could take several visits to accomplish one thing, and that's OK. This not only applies to professional care but to at-home care as well.

I wish I didnt have bad experiences to pull from, but I do, and I feel obligated to share them whenever I can. There are some great professionals out there, and there are some abhorrent ones. If you're searching for a dentist that takes the time to get to know her patients, does a thorough examination, and makes you feel at ease, go to

I had to do rotations at a local government-run facility when I was in dental school, and I was upset by some of the things I saw there. From below-average work ethics to negligence, the care was inconsistent and lacking at best. It's essential to be involved 100% of the time when your child is getting care. I understand that not everyone can go to private, specialized physicians. However, be sure to do your research and find the best of what you do have access to. Here are some things to consider.

  • In my professional opinion, restraints should not be used for regular dental care. Sometimes they can be “agreeably used” to protect the child and the practitioners, but ONLY if everyone is aware of what is happening, how it will happen, and WHY. Imagine if you were unexpectedly restrained against your will, forcibly, and without the knowledge of your family, and you couldn't communicate your thoughts and feelings about it. That is terrifying and can make future dental care
  • Be present in the room with your autistic child for all work. Unless you have an established relationship and trust built with a professional, I would not recommend handing over your child for care unless it's absolutely necessary. I know this sounds daunting, especially when you may just need a break… for a minute. This is not the time for that. Be there, be visually present, watch and evaluate what is going on. If someone tells you that “they won't allow you to be with your child,” take that as a red flag and find somewhere else.
  • Consider hospital dentistry to address treatment, especially if several treatments are required. A specialized dentist will work alongside an anesthesiologist to provide controlled and compassionate care while your child is relaxed.

Above all, do the best you can and take it one step at a time. Every day, a little progress is better than nothing, it’s valuable and sometimes the best way to approach oral care and special needs.

 Brilliant® has made oral care more attainable for those who have sensory challenges. Our patented round head bristle toothbrush not only removes the plaque on teeth, it simultaneously cleans and removes the plaque and bacteria found on the cheeks, gums, teeth, and tongue. It’s the bristles that make all the difference when performing oral care. If you need an autism toothbrush for your loved one, try one of our many options. We have silicone, soft, sensitive, and super soft bristles that help make finding a toothbrush for autism just a little bit easier. Don’t forget to #BRUSHBRILLIANT.

© 2021 Compac Industries. All rights reserved. This article provides information about "oral health topics" as expressed through the perspective and experience of the author. The information provided does not substitute professional advice or counsel, including diagnosing or treating any condition. Always seek the advice of your dentist or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, an oral condition, an illness, or treatment of any listed or unlisted situation above. Using this site signifies your consent to our Terms and Conditions. Do not use this site if you don’t agree to all Terms and Conditions.

Noelle Copeland
Noelle Copeland

Noelle Copeland is a licensed dental hygienist and Brilliant’s® first oral care specialist. She brings 25 years of clinical dental experience to the Brilliant® family and has become a regular contributor, creator and editor to the overall content and presentation of Brilliants® oral care line. She graduated with honors, Phi Theta Kappa, from Georgia State University Perimeter College in Dunwoody, Georgia, where she had been president of her dental class. Noelle has spent the majority of her career in the direct treatment of patients clinically and specializes in patient education and prevention strategies. She enjoys studying nutrition, oral care science and natural health.

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