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Dental Basics

We were on our way to town and Matt had only been up and moving for about an hour.� "Did you brush your teeth"? I asked.� "Um, yes!" he replied as he headed down the hall.� "Did you put on deodorant?" I asked.� "Um . .." he turned on a dime and headed straight for his bathroom.� Sometimes Matt needs a little reminder when it comes to personal hygiene.� A little reminder is nothing if you could have seen the early years. Teaching an autistic child to brush their teeth, comb their hair, take a shower, put on deodorant, and for males, shave, are all an adventure in persuasion techniques.� Let's start with brushing teeth.� Parents brush a child's teeth for them until they can take the reins and do it themselves.� An autistic child has obstacles to overcome that other children do not.� The taste.� The feel of the bristles.� The gag reflex.� We were lucky in that the taste wasn't too bad.� Matt started trying different candies including candy canes at Christmas.�Toothpaste with the same mint flavor was tolerated well whereas the backing soda brands were simply a waste of time and money.� As for bristles, we started with a very soft toothbrush and had him explore the feel on his teeth at his own speed - a slow, timid sweep across the teeth, then another, and another.� The back teeth caused a gag reflex and he had difficulty overcoming his fear.� I worried myself sick thinking about all the cavities he would have because his teeth were not getting the proper brushing.�It was time to see a dentist. The first dentist trip was a complete disaster.� Matt, 4 years old, refused to sit in the chair and once I got him to actually get in the chair, refused to open his mouth. The dentist never saw Matt's teeth.� I decided to take him to a children's dentist - a specialist. I let the office know Matt was autistic.� At that time most people had never heard of autism and I simply followed my statement with and short explanation of what autism was.� The weeks prior to the visit we practiced opening his mouth on command. "Can I see those pretty teeth?" I asked.� After several attempts he would smile.� "Can I see those pretty back teeth?" I ventured a little further.� Matt would open his mouth to show me.� It sounds simple.� It sounds like a nice smooth transition - but it took more perseverance than you think. It took weeks of practice just to get him to open his mouth and let me see.� It took bribes of cookies and candy and toys.�It required a bit of tickling and laughing and a lot of patience.� Matt's dental exam with a pediatric dentist lasted all of 5 minutes.� The dentist got a quick look, but that was all.� I continued to worry about his teeth. I finally decided I would take Matt to my dentist.� I took both Christopher and Matt with me to my next dental appointment to meet the dentist, explore the waiting room and watch as the dentist looked at my teeth. Then I made the boys' appointments coinciding with my next visit.� Christopher and Matt were both a bit anxious come appointment day.�So was I.� Matt, hands flapping, watched as Christopher headed right in when his name was called.� If Christopher had flinched, even a little, then Matt would have fought us.� Fortunately, Christopher did exactly what he was asked to do, showing no fear. Matt willingly came back with me and watched as they looked at my teeth.� When it was Matt's turn he climbed into the chair on his own. The chair hummed as it lifted.� I caught his eyes and smiled and pointed at my teeth.� Matt understood immediately and smiled.� The dentist asked him to open up and I caught his gaze again and open my mouth real wide.� Matt again understood and responded by opening his mouth real wide.� The dentist lightly touched each tooth. We had practiced this at home.� Matt expected it and thus allowed the examination to continue.� Afterward, I took the boys to McDonald's.� Sounds a bit strange, taking them to eat after having the dentist clean their teeth, but a bribe is a bribe and Matt had been promised a treat if he allowed the dentist to look.� Besides, breaking routine at this crucial point would have been disastrous.� The next big step was changing toothbrushes. Matt never did like using a manual toothbrush.� His brushing technique needed changing and I couldn't get him to brush thoroughly with a manual toothbrush.� Then the automatic toothbrushes came on the market and that changed how well Matt brushed.� The battery-operated spin brush was a blessing.� Matt didn't mind brushing his teeth if he could use the automatic spin brush.� He finally began brushing the back teeth because the spin brush did not cause a gag reflex.� Matt didn't have a cavity until 2009, at the age of 23.� I dreaded the day he would need a cavity filled, but I didn't need to.� By then, Matt was well known at the dentist office, knew the routine and liked his dentist. I explained what would happen and gave him every single detail of the procedure.� I told him his face would feel a bit weird but that it would wear off.�On the day of the appointment I was the one that was anxious.� Matt went in when his name was called.� I watched him march through the door determined.� A few minutes later I was called for my own scheduled cleaning.� I sat in the chair straining to hear anything that resembled a fearful cry, pain,anger . . . but no sound ever erupted.� After my cleaning the dentist walked in to check my teeth. "Matt had 2 cavities filled and he's all done", he said matter of fact. �I was in shock.� Really? Already? "He needs to focus on his gums more . . ." the dentist went on. But I didn't hear him finish.� My mind was still on the fact that Matt allowed a needle in his mouth, allowed the sounds of drilling and the feel of packing a tooth with filling.� I was awe struck.� Could it really have gone that well? I met Matt in the waiting room.� He didn't look happy, but he didn't appear fearful or mad either.� Actually, he looked fascinated by the numbness of his face and that was all.�I schedule one more appointment for him to get a third tooth filled.� On our way to the car I explained to Matt that we would have to come back in a few weeks to do it again.� "Yes" he replied. There was no fear in his voice. He never even flinched.� Matt is 24 years old.�He brushes his teeth.� He sees a dentist twice a year.� It's just another routine now.� It wasn't always this way.� It used to be stressful and worrisome.�Now, taking care of his teeth only requires a simple reminder. "Matt,did you brush your teeth?"

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