A unique initiative in South Australia is making waves worldwide through its work in specialised dental care and education for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, known as ASD.
Dr Wendy Cheung and her team of dentists and dental therapists at The Little Happy Tooth Co. in South Australia are recipients of a USD$6,000 Community Service Grant from Wrigley Company Foundation and the Australian Dental Association Foundation (ADAF), for the second year running.
The grant will enable Dr Cheung and her team to continue her successful program of dental workshops - Making Things Easier - which provide oral health education for parents of children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, along with free dental cleaning and check-ups. This year's grant will also help establish "AusTeeth", a new information website and the first global initiative of its kind. The website is designed for parents, patients and dental professions to seek information on the specific dental requirements of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
About 1 in 100 children, almost 230,000 Australians, have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Studies show these children have low levels of oral hygiene and gum health and high levels of dental decay.
Dr Cheung's research confirms there is a significant gap in dental care for children with Austism, with two out of five children (37.5%) attending her workshops having never visited the dentist before. Of those parents attending who had visited a dentist with their Autistic child, the majority (60%) reported the experience to have been extremely difficult.
"Parents of children with Autism spectrum disorder can find it difficult to locate dentists who understand their child's conditions and needs. As such, a visit to the dentist for a child with Austism can be extremely challenging and upsetting for all involved. Our team at The Little Happy Tooth Co. has been looking after children with ASD for many years and we are passionate about facilitating better oral care for all children.
"Children with autism find simple tasks like brushing their teeth particularly challenging and the difficulties of maintaining good oral hygiene routine at home has led to high incidence of painful, emergency treatment; which could have been avoided through education and preventatives measures.
"We're also excited to continue our Making Things Easier workshops again this year to help alleviate the burden on parents, providing them with the right information, practical advice and even free visual tools, through our 'Happy Tooth' app and ebook which have proven to assist autistic children in learning new skills," said Dr Cheung.
This year's grant support from the Wrigley Company Foundation and the Australian Dental Association Foundation (ADAF) will help launch AusTeeth. The website will include oral hygiene tips and ways to improve dental visits for autistic children.
Dr Cheung and her team will work with Autism SA, Paediatricians, Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, teachers and parents to build the website which will include forums for parents and dental professionals to share their dental care and dental visiting experiences. The Little Happy Tooth Company's oral healthcare tools including "Going to the Dentist" and "Brushing My Teeth" will also be available for download. The website is currently in development.
For more info about the Little Happy Tooth Co and their 'Making Things Easier' workshops, see www.littlehappytooth.com.au
Applications for the Community Service Grants program will open in March 2015. To keep up-to-date with news about the program and for the full application criteria, visit www.adaf.org.au.