Having a Successful Dental Visit with a Child with Autism
A dental visit for a child with autism can be intimidating, which is why our pediatric dentists are trained to care for children on the autism spectrum. We know that every child is unique and our team works diligently to treat each patient with personalized care. Our ultimate goal is to get to know your child, adapt to their needs, and continue seeing them for years to come.
You’ll find that we strive to meet each patient at their level and guide them through their dental appointment at their own pace. Our pediatric dentists complete an additional two years of training specifically to work with children, including those with autism and special healthcare needs. Whether your child has a sensory processing disorder, is non-verbal, or has other special needs, our team is trained to accommodate, listen to their cues, and make you and your child feel comfortable and cared for.
How To Prepare Your Child For A Successful Dental Checkup
Before your child comes in for their dental checkup, there are a variety of things you can do to help them prepare to have a successful visit. These small steps help set the stage for a positive experience at the dentist by what we call desensitization. This will help prepare them for the sights and sounds they’ll experience during a dental visit. Having a consistent dental routine at home will also likely reduce the time of your dental appointments and lower the risk of oral health problems in the future.
- Book Your Child’s Dental Checkup As Young As Possible Did you know that kids are supposed to have their first dental checkup by the age of one? This is especially important for children with autism since they are at a higher risk of developing cavities! A few factors that could increase your child’s level of risk for cavities are the amount of carbohydrates and sugars in their diet, as well as their oral hygiene routine at home.
Seeing patients at a young age allows for desensitization at a stage of childhood when they’re likely to be more cooperative and less fearful. The younger you bring your child to the dentist, the easier the checkup will be. Even if a child is diagnosed with ASD at a later age, if they’ve had their first dental checkup, you’ve already set them up for success!
- Have a Consistent Dental Routine at Home Brushing your child’s teeth at home twice a day for two minutes is essential to helping your child get used to the ‘brushing sensation’ on their teeth. This way, it’s not a shock at their dental appointment. Before bed, use a manual toothbrush and let them go at their own pace. Make sure you’re using an age-appropriate toothbrush to ensure that it’s comfortable in their mouth. Each child has different levels of sensory tolerance. Some kids don’t mind the feeling or the noise of an electric toothbrush.
- Teach Them To ‘Open Wide’ Teaching your child how to ‘open wide’ can be really helpful to make their dental checkup go smoothly. If your child is non-verbal, you may want to try teaching them to smile when you say, “Say Cheese!” to queue them to move their mouth. Once they have that down, it may be easier to get them to open wide and you can try moving your hands around in their mouth.
- Incorporate Your Child’s Communication Tablet Into Their Oral Health Routine Children with autism typically do very well on a set schedule, and communication tablets can play a pivotal role in reinforcing routines and habits both at home and when they’re getting acclimated to a new environment. If your child has a communication tablet at home, we recommend that you set up an icon on their tablet for brushing their teeth. They can use it in the mornings and before bedtime as a part of their regular routine.
Having this as a part of their routine will help them associate brushing their teeth with a positive experience that they’re familiar with, and when it comes time for their dental appointment, it will feel much more natural. Feel free to bring your child’s communication tablet to their dental visit so they can use it to speak with us. Using picture references and words on their tablet will make it that much easier for our team to accommodate their needs and feelings.
- Play Videos or Music For Your Child About Dental Visits If your child enjoys music or likes watching videos, there are many visual examples and songs online that can make going to the dentist not as intimidating. Start showing your child kid-friendly videos on how to brush their teeth or what a dental checkup is like. After watching the video together, you can make it interactive and let them watch you brush your teeth, and then brush theirs! These are great ways to make oral health a fun experience.
- Bring Items To Their Dental Checkup To Self-Soothe Incorporating items or activities that your child responds best to can help them feel more comfortable and secure throughout their dental checkup. A few go-to items you may want to bring are:
- Stress Balls, Fidget Toys, and Stuffed Animals can help keep their hands busy and serve as a distraction to help alleviate any anxiety they may be having.
- Communication Tablets help patients communicate their thoughts and feelings.
- Noise-canceling headphones can be helpful for children with sensory sensitivity by blocking out distracting noises.
- iPads are welcome for patients to watch their favorite show, game, or movie. Tablets can help keep their attention elsewhere during their dental checkup.
- Music can be soothing for children and helps calm anxiety.
When they complete their visit, have their favorite toy or another reward ready to congratulate them for a job well done!
What To Expect At Your Child’s Dental Visit
Throughout your child’s dental checkup, our staff and pediatric dentists aim to respect our patients’ boundaries and only perform what they are comfortable with. Even if we’re only able to count their teeth, get x-rays, or brush their teeth, those are all steps in the right direction! We celebrate the small victories because they add up and help your child feel more accustomed to visiting the dentist.
When we call you back and get your child settled in the dental chair, we may offer a weighted blanket or vest to help them feel relaxed and comfortable during their dental appointment. Let us know if you think these protective stabilization methods would be helpful for your child. We try our best to pair your child with the same staff member and dentist each time they see us as well as keeping a consistent room to build familiarity and consistency.
If your child is sensory sensitive, our team may take measures to make the environment more sensory-friendly. This may include dimming the lights, shutting the door to block out noise, turning off the TV, using quieter equipment, or giving them sunglasses.
For each step in the dental appointment, we utilize the ‘Tell, Show, Do Method’ with all of our patients.
- Tell them what we’re going to do. We explain in very plain language what’s going to happen.
- Show them what we’re doing to do. We demonstrate the use of each tool, this helps ease anxiety and prepares them for what’s next.
- Do what we’re going to do. We gently perform the recently demonstrated procedure or process.
If your child is non-verbal, we still try to use the “Tell, Show, Do Method” in the same manner since it has the potential of making their experience a positive one. We know no child is the same and what works for some may not work for others.
During your child’s dental examination, we’ll perform a dental cleaning and our doctor will examine their teeth. Other services, such as taking X-Rays and applying fluoride may also be performed if it’s recommended by the doctor and your child is cooperating. You’ll get a chance to speak with your pediatric dentist about any questions or concerns you may have.
Our team is always here to help give advice to parents and support whenever you need it! Depending on your child’s individual needs and their level of risk in developing cavities, we may recommend increasing the frequency of their dental visits.
Help Us Help You!
- Let Us Know More About Your Child and Their Needs When completing your New Patient Paperwork, the Medical History section has a place to indicate that your child has autism. We encourage parents to let us know if there are any triggers your child may have or ways that we can help make your child feel more at ease. It’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate, so make sure you let us know so we can be fully prepared for your child’s visit! Any specifics will be noted in our schedule for their visit so the staff and doctors know ahead of time. Rest assured, our team will do all they can to make your visit go smoothly and provide a safe environment for both you and your child.
- Request a Private Room Ahead of Time When scheduling your child’s appointment, make sure to request a private room ahead of time if you want to accompany them throughout their dental checkup. Please note, private rooms are not always available, but we will do our best to accommodate.
- Schedule a Tour of Our Office We welcome parents to schedule a tour of our office before your child’s appointment. This gives your child a chance to get more accustomed to the lights, sounds, and atmosphere of the office before coming to see us. You will get a chance to look around, meet the staff, see the rooms, and feel more at ease before your official visit.
- Consider the Time of Day You’re Scheduling an Appointment We see special needs patients at any time of day, but you may want to schedule your child’s checkup when the office is less busy. Feel free to give us a call and ask when the best time is to book a private room or what days and times we have less people in the office. For some of our offices, the first appointment of the day or the first appointment after lunch are lower traffic times.
You may also want to consider if there are certain times of day that your child tends to feel more comfortable or relaxed, like after lunch or after their nap. Try to schedule their appointment around this time if possible. Fitting in their appointment within their daily routine is key to having a successful, stress-free dental visit. If the location you’re looking to schedule your appointment at is limited in the times you’d prefer, we often have locations nearby that you could also consider.
A Visual Guide for Your Child’s First Trip to the Dentist
To help better prepare your child for their first dental visit, we’ve made this helpful chart that walks you through all that you should expect at their dental appointment. Each image shows where they’ll be going and what they’ll be doing. Feel free to download and print off this visual aid! We hope that this blog post has been helpful and reassuring to you as a parent. We value every child that sees us, and always strive to make each visit a positive experience for everyone.
Ready to get your child’s smile on track?
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