If you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder, going to the dentist, even for a routine checkup or cleaning, may be a stressful for both you and your child. However, with the proper preparation, you can work with your dentist to create a low-stress environment and get your child ready for a lifetime of proper dental care.
Prepare Your Child
It is important to prepare all children for their dental visits, but while most children may only need a day or two warning, a child with autism spectrum disorder may need a couple of weeks to fully process the fact that they will be going to the dentist. For that reason, you should start reminding your child that they will be going to the dentist two weeks before their appointment. During this time you can show your child videos of dental procedures and talk about the sights and sounds they will experience. You may also practice for their checkup by pretending to complete a dental visit at home.
One of the best ways to prepare your child is to make sure they are comfortable with basic dental hygiene. Make sure that brushing their teeth and flossing are non-traumatic, stress-free experiences that they enjoy.
Find a Pediatric Dentist Experienced With Special Needs Patients
Many parents simply choose to take their child to their dentist. However, dentists who specialize in pediatric dentistry are specially trained to set children at ease. For this reason, it is important that you find a pediatric dentist who is experienced treating children with special needs.
You should keep in mind that every dentist has a unique approach to their patients, and a dentist who is successful with other special needs children may not always work for you. It is best to speak with several dentists before deciding on one. Once you find out more here and decide on a dentist, it is best to visit them regularly so that your child can build a relationship with them.
Meet With Your Child's Dentist Ahead of Time
Some dentists will offer to send you photos of their clinic so your child can see where they will be going and who they will be meeting. While this is a good start, you may want to take your child in for a short visit a week before their checkup. This will allow them to see, hear, and smell the environment, and ask questions before they have to sit down and allow the dentist to examine them.
Even if you cannot take your child ahead of time, arrange to meet with the dentist yourself before the appointment. You can discuss whether you will be in the room for the examination and what types of sedation and restraint the dentist uses, when necessary.
Consider the Benefits and Problems Associated With Restraints and Sedation
Ideally, your child will feel comfortable enough after your preparation to not require restraints or sedation. However, for some children, restraints or sedation are required to complete a checkup or more intense procedures. If your dentist does use restraints for children, check to make sure they have the softer, more comfortable butterfly restraints rather than a papoose board or similar restraints. Some children may enjoy the feeling of being cocooned in the butterfly restraints, so let your child's dentist know if you would like to try this method.
Many dentists sedate children with autism spectrum disorder. While this can make the dental procedures easier, it can be very disorienting for your child when they come out of sedation. If there is a possibility that your child will be sedated, you need to prepare them for it ahead of time.
All children require regular visits to the dentist to keep their teeth and gums healthy. If you have a child with special needs, a regular home care routine and biannual dental visits can make the entire process less traumatic.