The Oral Health Foundation is backing the use of children's storybooks with dental narratives following a new study which has shown they can be a highly effective way of helping prepare children with autism for a visit to the dentist.1
The research, published in Special Care in Dentistry, found that almost two thirds (64%) of caregivers felt that dental stories were a useful tool for both themselves and their child in preparing them for a visit to the dentist.
The stories were delivered to children via a range of different media, including picture based story books, photographs and video, with caregivers questioned before and after the stories to analyse the effect they had on the children's attitudes to visiting the dentist.
The Oral Health Foundation believe the use of dental stories could lead to a significant benefit in the long term oral health of children with autism by helping to develop behavioural routines involving positive behaviour such as tooth brushing.
Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, said: ‘Everybody needs to look after their oral health, but for children with autism developing the required behaviour to do so effectively can be difficult due to the level of intimacy involved when they are learning to look after their oral health effectively.
‘Many children with autism do not have the capacity to read and comprehend the feelings, experiences and motives of others and can have difficulty understanding the need for things many of us find simple. We have found that such activities like toothbrushing and dental visits can be particularly stressful for children with autism, as well as those with other learning difficulties, which can lead to increased levels of oral health disease.
‘By using dental stories, we can help them achieve an improved level of care and from this there can be real benefits to their oral health for life. By using storybooks to help incorporate behaviour, such as visiting the dentist or brushing their teeth, into their daily routine it can mean they can look after their own oral health more effectively later in their life.’
Children with autism are recognised to be at a higher risk of some oral health problems, including: bruxism, ulceration, erosion due to regurgitation and tooth decay as a result of limited dietary preferences and sweets being given as behaviour rewards.
As part of their work to help young children develop basic oral health behaviour such as habitual brushing using storybooks social stories, the Oral Health Foundation provide a wide range of children's books through their Educational Resources store.
Marion I W, Nelson T M, Sheller B, McKinner C M, Scott J M . Dental stories for children with autism. Spec Care Dentist 2016; 36: 181–186
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Dental storybooks could help children with autism. BDJ Team 4, 17022 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/bdjteam.2017.22