Dental care and a visit to the dentist can be demanding for children and adults with autism. Various tips and exercises are available in order to make these tasks more enjoyable, and order and routine can often accomplish many things.

Dental care habits at home


It is often difficult to establish the habit of brushing teeth for children with autism. The reason may be that children with autism are generally more sensitive to the texture, taste and smell of things. At first, they may feel that the texture/shape of the toothbrush or the taste of the toothpaste, is uncomfortable. In these cases, there is a need for a so-called desensitization, where the child is exposed repeatedly to the texture and taste in question. The following advice can be used during tooth brushing:

  • Allow the child to watch its parents, siblings, or others brushing their teeth. This sort of observational learning can help the child to learn new behavior.
  • Choose a convenient place in the home, where the child is comfortable. This does not necessarily mean that the bathroom is the best place for brushing.
  • For some, it can be useful to have an hourglass or an egg-timer at hand, where the child can observe while brushing how much time has passed and keep track of when the task will finish.
  • Images are very helpful to many children. In that way, it is possible to use images to indicate what projects are ahead, and in what order. That way, the child can take a look at the images as often as it likes and, thereby, learn the intended routine. Some have also found helpful to print out these images in order to be able to check them off when the task in each image has been finished. Others have placed the images in a Power Point presentation and display them at an interval that fits the task at hand. Should this method be chosen, it is important for all involved to make sure that the tasks are completed in the same manner and in the same order as displayed to the child.
  • A reward system is often useful as encouragement to do well. The reward can come in the form of a compliment or encouragement, a “thumbs up”, stickers, Legos for the new Lego system, or anything else the child enjoys.
  • Desensitization is good to initiate by touching the child’s lips with the toothbrush or placing it just inside the mouth. Do this many times before putting the brush further into the child’s mouth.
  • Some are more comfortable with regular toothbrushes, whereas others prefer an electrical toothbrush.

A visit to the dentist

Many of the things mentioned above can also be useful for the child’s visits to the dentist. Observational learning, images and a reward system can also prove very helpful when used as a part of the visit to the dentist. Below, you will find a brochure with images of Tannlæknastofan in Glæsibær, dental clinic, which you can use for your first visit. During the first visit parents can then take additional photos if they believe this to be helpful to the child.

It is also good to keep the following in mind before bringing a child with autism for its first visit to the dentist:

  • Information about the individual can be a great help for the dentist in approaching the child in a correct manner during the first visit; children and adults with autism can have very different needs and what is good for some is negative for others. Therefore, we recommend you make a phone call to the clinic and give us necessary and helpful information about the individual. Such information could be, for example:
  • What time of day is best suited for the individual
  • Whether the individual is sensitive to certain sounds, light, smells or taste
  • Whether the individual is worried about or scared of anything in particular
  • Whether the individual has been to a dentist appointment before and if so, explain how the visit went
  • If the individual has a favorite teddy bear or a toy it could be useful to bring that along
  • An introductory tour to the dentist clinic could be of help to some. Parents or legal guardians can bring the child or individual for a visit to the clinic, in order to see the building, the waiting room, and the staff before the actual dentist appointment takes place.

If treatment is needed

Should an appointment reveal that there is a need for treatment, such as to put in a filling, a tooth needs to be pulled, or other such matters, a plan of action needs to be designed, which best suits the individual in question. There are various possibilities and each individual has different needs. Some have little difficulty in undergoing conventional treatment in the dentist chair, whereas this would be unthinkable for others. The main treatment options available are as follows:

  • Traditional treatment in a dentist chair
  • Treatment in a dentist chair with the aid of nitrous oxide (gas and air)
  • Treatment in a dentist chair with the aid of sedative medication
  • Anesthesia

The objective is always to figure out which treatment option will ensure the child’s or individual’s sense of calm and wellbeing, while at the same time making sure to create a good situation for the dentist to execute the necessary treatment.

Tannlæknastofan in Glæsibær image aid

+354 561 3130

Vesturhús Glæsibæ
Álfheimar 74
104 Reykjavík

Mon–Thu 8:00–16:00
Fri- 8:00 – 14:00