A simple trip to the dentist can be traumatic for a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Not only are there many fears associated with strangers, but there are also many unfamiliar sounds, tastes, sensations, and even pain. Dental exams and appointments with an autistic child will never be a simple task; however, there are specific steps as a parent that you can take to help prepare everyone for a more positive experience.
Making Dental Visits As Painless as Possible (For Everyone!)
As a parent, you should be aware that not all dentists are comfortable treating children with autism spectrum. Pediatric dentists and dental offices who regularly work with children are more likely to be the right choice. Prior to scheduling an exam, ask around for recommendations, interview the dentist, and visit the practice.
Questions we recommend parents ask include:
Do you often work with children with special needs?
How are you prepared to handle a child with anxiety?
Are parents allowed to stay with their children during all exams and treatments?
How do you expect to handle a situation where behavior makes dental work difficult?
Evaluate the dentist’s responses carefully. A trained dentist who has experience with special needs children will have specific answers to your questions and should help to give you peace of mind. Unless there is a significant emergency, strapping a child to a “papoose board” to keep them immobile is not a reasonable approach to managing a child’s anxiety, and you should work to find a better-suited dentist.
Prepare Your Child With a Picture Book or Social Story
A visual schedule, or social story, may be extremely helpful in preparing children for their visit. Print out or make your own picture book or social story, showing and telling exactly what will happen in the dentist’s office. Read through the story often with your child, and bring it along to your appointment. Your dentist may also find having a copy of your social story helpful so they can use it with your child.
Consider Your Child’s Comforts and Discomforts
Think about your child’s comfort or discomfort with various flavors, sounds, and noises. For example, if your child hates the taste of mint, this is essential information to communicate with your dentist. If there is a specific brand and flavor of toothpaste that your child prefers, bring it with you to your appointment for the hygienist to use. Avoiding sensory triggers is essential to avoiding a meltdown.
Bring Along Forms of Distraction
Consider bringing along specific comforts and forms of distraction to your child’s exam. Packing a tablet and headphones can help to provide potent tools for maintaining calm and relaxed. If your child is sensitive to bright lights or loud sounds, bring along sunglasses and a set of earplugs.
Schedule an Office Tour Before Your Appointment
Many offices will allow you to schedule a tour in the weeks or days ahead of your actual appointment so your child will feel more comfortable in a semi-familiar setting. Be sure to discuss your child’s individual needs, concerns, or challenges with the dentist and staff before the appointment so we can help avoid triggers.
Ask As Many Questions As You’d Like
With proper practice and preparation, regular dental visits for children with an autism spectrum disorder, sensory issues, or general anxiety can go far better than you may initially think. Dr. Aubrey Baudean DDS welcomes families of autistic children and those with special needs. Call us today to discuss any specific concerns you may have so we can help you in making the dentist an enjoyable experience for you and your child.