On the surface, a visit to the dentist can certainly seem scary to any child, especially a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
According to a 2011 study, nearly half of parents with children who have ASD describe their children’s oral health as either poor or fair. After all, a visit to the dentist –– with unfamiliar sounds, sights, and smells –– can present serious challenges.
Fortunately, you can overcome many of these challenges by following a few guidelines. Here is a rundown on what you can do to create a positive dental experience for your child.
Introduce Your Child to Good Dental Care at Home
It’s critical that your child brushes and flosses regularly to maintain good oral health. If you show him or her how to care for their teeth at home, having a dentist examine and work in his mouth at the dental office won’t seem quite as scary.
Home Care Tips
For home care, make sure that you’re using a soft-bristled toothbrush. A toothbrush featuring your child’s favorite cartoon character or one in his favorite hue is a sure way to make the tooth brushing experience more exciting from day one.
Also, choose a flavored toothpaste your child will like—for example, chocolate or strawberry-banana. There’s even bacon-flavored toothpaste now—no kidding! If you know that your child has an affinity for any of these flavors, give it a try.
Finally, show your child how to floss between each tooth. To make the process seem less intimidating for your child, sing his favorite tune or read his favorite story during the tooth brushing and flossing event.
Take Your Child to a Desensitization Dental Visit
It’s critical that your child becomes used to going to the dentist from a young age. In other words, don’t let his first dental visit be an emergency one.
Not sure which dentist to visit? First and foremost, look for a dental practice that is used to catering to children who have special needs. Then, take your child there for what’s referred to as a desensitization dental visit.
The Desensitization Visit
During this visit, your child can get to know the office environment and staff without having to undergo any treatment. The staff can show your child how the patient chair moves and what the dental tools look like.
During the desensitization dental visit, the dentist can also explain to your child what will take place during his first actual visit. You could even bring your child with you during your own dental cleaning to show him the ropes and allow him to watch you flawlessly handle your own appointment.
Last but not least, inquire about sedation dentistry during this visit. Sedation dentistry can be an option for any children who have extreme anxiety or fear of the dentist. If during your desensitization visit you feel your child may require sedation in order to complete his check-up or procedure, be sure to discuss this option with your dentist.
Communicate During Your Dental Visit
During your child’s real visit to the dentist, be sure that you communicate with the dental staff about any preferences your child may have and what they could do to decrease his anxiety. Also, you may want to have him sit in your lap the first time—or the first few times—to keep him calm.
In addition, consider bringing sunglasses to shade the operatory light from your child’s eyes, or headphones to help him to block out the dental office noises. Even his favorite stuffed animal may give him extra consolation during his visit.
Still, the dental staff may need to take regular breaks if your child is feeling particularly upset or uncomfortable. Even in these situations, keep the dental office mood as positive as possible.
Give Your Child a Reason to Smile
Getting your child with ASD into the dental office as soon as possible is a smart way to set his oral health down the right path. Apply the steps above to ensure that your child’s next dental office visit is a positive one from start to finish.
About the Author
Dr. Steven DeLisle is the founder of Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing pediatric dental practices in the country. He is a pediatric dentist who specializes in sedation dentistry and has experience treating children with ASD.