5 min read

Dental Care for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Every child should be able to receive excellent dental care and we know that it is our responsibility to help your child feel safe and comfortable while visiting us. We feel a great sense of joy and accomplishment every time we are able to help a child on the autism spectrum feel secure enough that their family is happy to call Jungle Roots their dental home.

This doesn’t just accidentally happen though. We intentionally learn and implement techniques and arrange the environment in our office to help all children enjoy the smoothest visits possible.

To help parents feel comfortable with the idea of bringing their child on the spectrum to us for dental care, we want to explain some of the measures we have taken to help every single child feel safe and comfortable while in our office.

Training and Experience

Dr. Culp is a board-certified pediatric dentist with over 27 years of experience treating children with a wide variety of needs, including autism spectrum disorders. Our team is made up of carefully selected individuals who are compassionate and experienced, so we can provide the highest level of care for each child who comes through our doors. We implement a variety of techniques to increase the likelihood of the visit being successful.

Please know that we understand that a child on the autism spectrum will have different responses and behaviors, and we will not be judging you or your child during your visit. Our goal is to work with you and your child to bring about positive, successful visits and ensure that your child eventually feels safe and comfortable with us – even if that means tiny, baby steps forward.

We know that if we can reduce a child’s anxiety and use interventions that contribute to positive patient behaviors, this helps increase the likelihood of positive visits and also reduces your stress. So, we use evidence-based practices to support individuals on the autism spectrum

Since each child is a uniquely wired individual, we know that a variety of approaches will be beneficial for different children. We pay attention and learn what works or doesn’t work for your child and utilize the information in future visits. We can discuss various techniques with you before your child’s first visit, and here is a brief overview of a few commonly used methods that work with many patients.

  • Tell-show-do is a useful method that allows children to know what to expect as we tell them about the instrument or procedure, then show them what to expect before the procedure is begun.
  • Positive reinforcement is an extremely useful method to encourage preferred behaviors. We praise each desired behavior while ignoring inappropriate behaviors as much as possible.
  • Distraction is another useful technique. It may help your child to hold onto a favorite toy, listen to music, or watch tv.
  • Some children may respond better if a parent is with them, while others will do better if the parent is in another room.
Sensory Stimuli

If we can make modifications to the environment or other aspects of an appointment that cause unpleasant sensory stimulation, we are happy to do so. This may include using different flavors of toothpaste, lowering the lights, scheduling appointments at a time where there are not many other patients in the office, moving the dental chair into position before the child sits on it, or a variety of other changes to help your child.


We listen patiently to every child, and pay attention to nonverbal cues, especially in children who may have limited verbal skills. We communicate clearly, using words and terms that your child can understand as much as possible and pictures may also be used to communicate when necessary. If your child uses a communication device or system, we would love to have them bring it to appointments, so they are able to communicate as much as possible.

Before Your Child’s First Appointment

It is beneficial to have a visit before we ever look in your child’s mouth. This visit will allow us to review any pertinent information and help your child to gain a level of familiarity, trust, and comfort with us and our office.

It is also helpful sometimes to have a series of visits in which we gradually introduce each additional step so that your child progressively becomes more familiar with us and the process.

Some families find it helpful to schedule appointments on the same day of the week, at the same time of day, with the same hygienist and dentist.

Of course, parents and caregivers also play a role in their child’s level of comfort and cooperation while in our office. Here are a few things you can do.

  • Provide thorough information. In addition to your child’s complete medical and dental history, it is beneficial for us to know any information that can help your child feel more are secure and make the appointment go smoothly. This may include various behavior management techniques that do or do not work, and specific words and phrases that you use to gain cooperation or relay specific commands. We need to know various things such as if your child is comforted by the sensation of pressure, or if they dislike having their head or face touched. Please also be sure to let us know about any medications that your child may be taking, or any changes to medication since the last time we saw them. Many prescribed medications can have side effects that impact oral health such as toothaches or dry mouth (which can increase the risk of cavities).
  • Prepare your child before they arrive. It is often useful to explain to your child ahead of time what will happen or use visual aids to show a step-by-step schedule of what to expect at the appointment.
  • Help your child practice good oral hygiene at home. Even if it is a struggle, the more you can do at home the better their experience will be with us. First, the sensations of having someone touch and look in their mouth will not be so foreign which may help your child cooperate more. Second, prevention is always better than restoring damaged teeth, especially for kiddos who may have a more difficult time handling a dental appointment. Here are some tips that may help.
  • Establish a dental home for your child. Children grow quickly and their mouths are constantly changing so visiting the same dentist for regular checkups allows us to monitor changes and better assess your child’s oral health. Once you find a dentist you both can trust, a dental home also helps your child to feel safe and comfortable.
A Final Note

Some children simply do not have the ability to remain calm while at the dentist. After consulting with you, we may determine together that the best option is to have dental care completed while your child is sedated until they are better able to cope. In this case, we have Dr. Jason Brady, an internationally recognized unconscious sedation specialist, to perform this vital role. You can read more about safe dental sedation here.

At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry, we have created a unique, entertaining environment where your child can feel comfortable, with a professional, caring team you can trust. Our entire office revolves around fulfilling our mission of providing the highest quality, comprehensive children’s dental care experience for every child. We work hard to ensure that your child feels their dental home is safe, soothing, and comfortable. This intentional, child-friendly space, matched with Dr. Culp’s expertise, helps provide your child with the dental care they need to keep them confident and healthy. We would be honored to become your child’s dental home.

At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.

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Location: Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert, Arizona
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