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Autism and dentistry.
Understanding autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behaviour. It is estimated that around 1 in 100 people in the UK have ASD, making it one of the most prevalent developmental disorders.

ASD is a spectrum disorder

This means that it affects individuals in different ways and to varying degrees. Some individuals with ASD may have mild symptoms and require minimal support, while others may have more severe symptoms and require significant support throughout their lives.

Range of symptoms

The signs and symptoms of ASD may be noticeable by the age of 2-3 years, although some children may not receive a diagnosis until later. The range of symptoms and their severity can vary widely among individuals with ASD.

The core symptoms of ASD include difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive or restricted behaviours or interests.

Common symptoms of ASD include:

  • Difficulty with social interaction, such as difficulty with eye contact, facial expressions, and nonverbal communication
  • Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, such as delayed or absent speech, lack of gestures, and difficulty understanding sarcasm or humour
  • Repetitive or restricted behaviours, such as repeating words or phrases, lining up objects, and becoming upset by changes in routine
  • Sensory sensitivities, such as being sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, or certain textures of clothing or food
  • Intellectual disability or delayed cognitive development (in some cases)

Rarer symptoms of ASD include:

  • Self-injurious behaviour, such as head-banging or biting oneself
  • Aggressive behaviour, such as hitting or biting others
  • Catatonic behaviour, which involves a lack of movement or responsiveness to stimuli
  • Hyperactivity or hypoactivity, which involves either excessive or reduced levels of activity and movement
  • Seizures or epilepsy, which can occur in a small percentage of individuals with ASD
  • Sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early
  • Eating disorders, such as picky eating or a restricted diet
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, or abdominal pain

The causes of ASD

The causes are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be involved.


Treatment for ASD

There is currently no cure for ASD, but early intervention and appropriate treatment can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with ASD.

The importance of understanding ASD for dental professionals

As dental professionals in the UK, it is important to have a good understanding of ASD and how it can affect our patients. This knowledge can help us provide better care and support to individuals with ASD, and help to create a more inclusive and accommodating dental environment. In the following pages, we will look at some of the key considerations and best practices for treating patients with ASD in the dental office in the UK.

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