Many children are frightened of going to the dentist. And with good reason. Teeth cleanings and fillings often involve shots of numbing medication, bright lights, and mirrors. And while it is true that we would all prefer to avoid dental visits, the fact is that if we don’t get our teeth checked regularly they will suffer. And this is true whether you have autism or not. And it's hard for a toddler or preschooler to stay still for the examination and cleaning, so it’s hard for parents to hold them still.
There are simple steps that can be taken to help a child with autism and special needs visit the dentist, as well as strategies for parents to avoid making the trip more difficult for their child.
1. Get a Dentist who works with Children with Special Needs
These dentists know that children with autism and special needs are often frightened of the dentist and it can take a while to get them to open up. These dentists will not only have a special interest in children with special needs but also will be willing to help them and happy to see them. They'll be more sensitive and responsive to your child's needs. The dentist will have treated other children with autism and be accustomed to working with them. They'll be able to take things at your child's pace and would be ready to go the extra mile.
2. Talk to the dentist about the special circumstances of your child
It’s so important to talk to your dentist about the special needs of your child before your appointment if they have seizures or any other kind of developmental disability. Discuss with the dentist what they need to do before your child come in to dental. It's also important to inform the dentist about any special considerations that need to be made or about any particular concerns your child might have.
3. Prepare your child for their visit to the dentist
Visiting the dentist can be intimidating, especially for children with autism. To make it easier for them, be sure to tell them what to expect, what they'll be doing, and what will happen next. One way of doing this is to teach them step by step the entire process. It's a good idea to put together a visual schedule for your child with autisms and show them videos or have a visual story about a dental checkup. That way, they won't be overwhelmed and won't have any surprises. Most websites have these dental toys which you can use to help the child understand.
4. Arrive early at the dentist
It’s important when you bring your child to the dentist, early. The dentist is going to want your child to be calm and relaxed before they start the procedure so it’s best to allow plenty of time for your child to get their bearings. The waiting area and dental suites in general can be very overwhelming so make the best use of the waiting room while he's settling in. It's always good to have something familiar, like a coloring book, puzzle, or a playlist that your child is comfortable with to make them feel a bit more at home.
5. Visit the dentist at a time when your child is most receptive
If you’re a parent to a child with autism trying to get them to go to the dentist, there are a few ways you can make the experience less traumatic and more meaningful. The best time to take your child to the dentist is when they’re most receptive to it. Some children will be more cooperative in the mornings, while others may be more receptive in the evening. Take time to figure out what your child’s best time is, then try to book their dentist appointment for the time when he/she is most receptive to outside stimuli.
6. Give your child a tour of the dental office before the appointment
It’s important to allow your child to feel comfortable in their dental office so dental visits aren’t traumatic for them. It’s easy to take kids with autism and other special needs tours of their dental office before they get their treatment so they know what to expect. Trusted medical professionals place a lot of emphasis on making sure the environment is supportive and honest. You should also remember to focus on getting them to say yes. Get an individualized plan from the dentist, learning the location, layout, and accommodation to make the visit successful.
7. Take frequent breaks
The dental anxiety in children with autism can be debilitating for the child and their parents. There can be a lot of emotion associated with the child’s visit to the dentist. So it is vital to take frequent breaks during what can be a really challenging time for them to help them get through the process and stay calm and relaxed. By giving your child appropriate breaks and with the right attitude and support, tackling the dentist can be an empowering experience.
8. Offer a reward at the end of the appointment
A reward can help reinforce good behavior, and it's a nice way to celebrate achievements. It's really important to recognize and acknowledge your child and to give them a sense of accomplishment. Offer them something at the end of the appointment in a way that rewards them for their effort and time. A lot of the time, this will be a sticker in exchange for their toothbrush or they get to blow bubbles or pop balloons. This really motivates them and makes going to the dentist even more fun.
9. Keep the appointments to the dentist as consistent as possible
It’s important for the dental appointments for kids that have special needs to be kept consistent as often as possible. This will help to reduce their anxiety surrounding the dental appointments, and it will also help them to build trust with the dentist. It’s not uncommon for special needs children to be more sensitive when it comes to pain. Their previous positive experience with the dentist will also help to make the experience less traumatic, and make them less anxious going into the next visit.
Regular dental visits are an incredibly important part of establishing a good oral health program for children with autism and special needs. A little preparation and a lot of patience, kindness, and planning will go a long way to make these dental visits less stressful for you and your child.
Did we miss anything? Do you any other tips to add? Please let us know in the comments below.
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