Face it. You are no more excited about taking your child with autism to the dentist than he or she is about going. There are uncomfortable noises, sterile surroundings and weird instruments all around. It's a lot for your child to absorb. Fortunately there are dentists who get it and get kids with autism. They offer a few tips on how to make a trip to the dentist less stressful.
Check up on the dentist's knowledge of autism. Kids will respond better to dentists who are comfortable working with them. Pediatric dentists receive at least two additional years of specialty training on how to provide oral health care to children and individuals with Special Needs, so these professionals are a good bet for kids with autism. Also, make sure the staff has been trained to interact with and treat children on the spectrum. It's not unheard of to expect your child to be seen by the same staff each visit or sit in the same chair or room each time. Dr. Erin Phillips, board certified pediatric dentist with Indianapolis Pediatric Dentistry and president of the Indiana Society of Pediatric Dentistry, says her team is even prepared to incorporate visual social stories into the visit to help the child know what to expect during the appointment. A good pediatric dentist will get to know and be able to accommodate your child.
Tour the office. Dr. Sam Bullard, board certified pediatric dentist with Children's Dentistry of Indianapolis, encourages a brief tour of the dental office before attempting any treatment. Familiarizing you and your child with the facility and dental team can be helpful so everyone knows what to expect during the examination.
Schedule the appointment during your child's happy hour. You know your child's most cooperative times of day. Schedule the dentist then.
Take a favorite thing. Holding onto a beloved blanket or stuffed toy can help soothe an anxious mind during dental visits.
Bring the dentist into the fold. Provide your dentist with background information on your child in advance so he or she can best prepare for your child's exam. For instance, Dr. Bullard's practice has a specially designed bean bag chair that patients with sensory issues sometimes find more comfortable than the dental chair. Dentists can also help reinforce the importance of other therapies like speech or occupational therapy as they may relate to oral health.
Maintain a healthy at-home dental routine. Good at-home oral health care makes for a healthier mouth and easier dental visits. Your child's dentist will be able to offer specific tips for daily teeth cleaning. Some kids may like the vibration of sonic toothbrushes, but of course others will not. Some may be fine with regular toothpaste, while others may do better with special no-foam toothpaste. The main thing is to be persistent in establishing a routine, even if you don't feel like your child's teeth are getting clean. "A little is better than nothing," said Dr. Phillips.
Despite beloved blankets, good intentions and no-foam toothpaste, kids with autism can still feel real anxiety about the dentist. Dr. Phillips urges parents to visit the dentist anyway.
"Routine preventative care is so very important. Do not avoid doing it because of worries or concerns with how the dentist will handle your child's behavior. If you are working with a pediatric dentist, they are going to be able to deal with behaviors and challenges. Delaying or avoiding dental exams puts the child in harm's way for more significant dental issues," said Dr. Phillips.
You heard the dentist. Have you scheduled your child's next dental appointment?