The aim of this service is to help establish patterns of dental care that will help prevent dental disease developing in the child’s mouth. This can be achieved by a combination of preventing dental disease and also helping the child feel comfortable when attending the dentist’s surgery.
Conventional dental treatment in the dental chair involving injections and drills would be very difficult for many TreeHouse School pupils for a number of reasons (eg. limited understanding of dental treatment scenarios; difficulty interacting with unfamiliar adults; possible past negative experiences relating to dental visits). Therefore, preventing disease is of utmost importance for these children so that they and their families can avoid the trauma of dental treatment under general anaesthesia.
Tooth decay and gum disease are completely preventable in children. Although we all know that the children at TreeHouse School have particular difficulties relating to their diagnoses which may mean that achieving good dental health may be a problem, experience has shown that there are many avenues to pursue so that a real difference can be made.
In order to make each dental experience as positive and productive as possible, the dentist will use information relating to (amongst other things) reinforcerment, communication (eg. verbal; PECS; Communication Book; Makaton; etc.), learning style, and diet with the help of staff members familiar with each child and their specific needs.
All parents of pupils who have problems attending their own dentist or do not actually have a dentist and have requested assistance for their child will be offered appointments at TreeHouse School to work towards developing dental readiness. The timing of such appointments will be based upon the degree of dental readiness (eg. following instructions; attending; waiting; etc.) displayed by the child across time.
The service at TreeHouse School is for all TreeHouse pupils who have problems with tooth brushing and also attending the dental setting. Involvement with key staff members familiar with each child will be essential to guide the child through the dentistry experience; the dentist will also advise accordingly. Each child is accompanied by staff members familiar to them.
Finding out about the child is essential at this first appointment and the parent/guardian must be present. At this first visit the dentist will look at the child’s medical history, personal history, diet, home tooth brushing experience and use of fluoride.
The dentist usually examines the child by using a toothbrush in the first instance, as this should be familiar to the child. It is therefore important that tooth brushing habits are started at home as early as possible.
If the child already attends a dentist successfully there is no need for them to be seen at TreeHouse School; they should continue to see their usual dentist every 3 -6 months.
Dr Wendy Bellis has created a helpful guide for parents of children with autism: Visiting the dentist and dental hygiene - FAQs (PDF 248KB).
Our dentist: Dr Wendy Bellis
Wendy has worked with children with special needs for nearly 30 years in the salaried services, developing community programmes for early dental contact for this population.
Her main areas of interest are ‘Behaviour Management for Children’, which she has taught on the Doctorate programme in Paediatric Dentistry at the Eastman Dental Institute for over 15 years and ‘Dental Management of the Autistic Child’. Wendy lectures extensively on these subjects both nationally and internationally and has contributed to chapters in current and renowned textbooks in general and paediatric dentistry.
For the past 15 years her clinical work has almost exclusively been in the field of autism, and children who are on the autistic spectrum now represent approximately 90% of her caseload. Combining a knowledge of behaviour management, applied behaviour analysis and targeted prevention, Wendy aims to help those children who are on the autistic spectrum to achieve optimum oral health.
Wendy has been actively involved in the dental care of children at TreeHouse School since the mid 1990s and is well known to many of the pupils’ families.
- Autism and Pediatric Dentistry by Dr Wendy Bellis. In this article Dr Wendy Bellis, specialist paediatric senior dental officer from Camden and Islington (Whittington Health) discusses some of the problems faced by the parents of an autistic child in relation to oral health and dental care. This article looks at these issues, many of which are unique to autism, and offers some possible solutions. Read the article here.
- Interview with Dr Wendy Bellis about autism and dentistry. You can watch here.
- The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD), the organisation of dentists who care for children’s teeth, has assembled some advice for parents of children with autism. This includes an advice leaflet for parents: download here. There is also sample questionnaire referenced in the document Advice for Parents of Children with Autism which is designed for your child’s first visit to the dentist. It’s suggested that you speak to the practice or clinic to plan your child’s first visit and to ensure the questionnaire is helpful and what other information might be required.