Guest Blog Post by Dr. Steven DeLisle, DDS
A trip to the dentist can lead to some anxiety, even for adults. The process of regular dental cleanings and X-rays can be uncomfortable for children who aren’t familiar with them. Even more involved treatments like fillings are done more quickly and painlessly than most people expect.
But parents of children with ASD, know that a trip to the dentist is quite different. The unfamiliar location, people, sights, smells, and sounds can easily make a child uncomfortable and uncooperative. Many parents feel helpless when their child is at the dentist, not knowing what to do or how to help their child deal with the ordeal.
Below are six ways parents can help. Of course, you know the saying, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” Since every child with autism processes sensory events differently, not all of these tips may apply to their unique situation.
1. Find a Pediatric Dentist that Offers Special Needs Dentistry
Although some dentists say they’re “kid-friendly,” this is often just a marketing tool. Unless they specify that they’re a pediatric dentist, they have not gone through the rigorous additional education and training needed to best serve children and young adults. Finding a true pediatric dentist will help your child receive the most comprehensive oral health care possible. Additionally, ask potential pediatric dentists if they offer specialized special needs dentistry. They may even have additional training, certifications, or references that can help with your decision.
2. Ask to Take a Tour Before an Appointment
To help prep your child for their visit, ask the office if you can bring your child for a quick tour before their scheduled appointment. If so, your dentist will walk your child through their upcoming visit, showing them the tools and the space. For many children with autism, this will help soothe and reassure them. It can also help you identify any possible triggers that could arise during the upcoming appointment. As you know, helping your child feel safe and comfortable will make the whole process easier later on.
3. Create a Visual Story
Consider creating a visual story to help your child understand exactly what will happen at the dentist from start to finish. Ask your child’s school if you can send the story to the classroom so that teachers and therapists can incorporate it into their lesson plans. Doing this the week before a visit could be a help in preparing your child for what’s coming ahead.
4. Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones
A dentist can help mitigate some of the sensory triggers that might cause difficulty for your child. Consider using noise-canceling headphones to play calming music that will block out some of the sound. Your dentist may also allow your child to use a tablet during their treatment. Just make sure the headphones utilize Bluetooth (you don’t want wires dangling around your child’s head!).
5. Consider Sedation Dentistry
Although sedation dentistry is not for every child, it is a pain-free option available for many children. It’s safe and can help your child avoid a potentially harmful meltdown. Have an honest discussion with your child’s pediatric dentist about the possibility of using sedation dentistry to help you make an informed decision.
6. Use the Power of Music
Although we all love music, there’s no denying that many children on the spectrum have a special bond with their tunes. Put together a playlist of music that your child loves to help soothe them when they’re at the dentist. You can either play it in their wireless headphones, or you can ask the dentist if they would be willing to play it in the office.
According to a University of Washington study, children with ASD are at greater risk than neurotypical children of oral health issues. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t allow your child’s fear (or your own) to keep you from providing them professional oral care. Help your child learn that the dentist is their friend.
About the Author | Dr. Steven DeLisle, DDS, specializes in sedation dentistry and has experience treating children with special needs. He is the founder of Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas and Tooth Fairy Pediatric Dental. He was selected to join the team at Foundation for Positively Kids, a non-profit focused on treating medically fragile, foster, and special needs children at the Child Haven Dental Clinic.
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This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.