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Your Dental Visit With ASD

The dental clinic can be daunting for anyone (it’s one of the most common forms of anxiety), but the sensory experience is particularly hard for kids with ASD. For instance, the idea of having someone touch the inside of your mouth can cross many lines that your child may not be comfortable with which can create a poor mental picture of the dental environment in a child’s mind. The bright lights can be disorienting. As well as pain or sensitivity from the procedure, the intense ceiling and procedure lighting can be uncomfortable for those managing ASD.

With a few preparations, you can plan on happy and successful dental visits with your child. Be thoughtful about your child and their unique needs. Here is a list of ideas to get you started:


1. Choose the right dental clinic.

This might seem obvious, but don’t overlook its importance. Visit several. Get a feel for the office. Is it friendly? Can you hear other appointments in the exam rooms? Do they have TVs for patients to watch during the visit? Can the TV be turned off? You will know a lot about a place as soon as you walk through the door.

The best pediatric dentistry offices for children with autism are those that advertise specifically for special needs patients. General dentists are capable of providing the right dental treatment, but many of them are simply not prepared to thoughtfully care for children with developmental disabilities like ASD.


2. Choose the right practitioner.

You want a carer who will work with you to provide the best dental care and overall experience. Ask to meet the practitioner before you schedule a dental appointment. Ask about their experience with children who have sensory sensitivities due to developmental disorders. Ask about their plans to make this work. Ask anything you want to ask. More than information, this visit will give you a sense of their openness to making the experience a positive experience for your child. You will know as soon as you start asking questions if they resent the questions. If they resent being asked to provide extraordinary care, move on.


3. Ask questions — don’t just trust the buzzwords.

Look for the buzzwords, but don’t assume that they translate well. Some dental practices advertise that they specialize in care for scared patients or patients who hate the dentist. Some say they are kid-friendly. Some say they treat patients like family. It all sounds good, but push back a little. Does “specialty care for scared patients” mean that they sedate patients using general anaesthesia or other methods? Does “kid-friendly” mean TVs are blaring in every room? There is nothing wrong with sedation or TV distraction, but neither will help your child to have a good overall impression of the place. Much more important are features of the dental office such as a desensitization tour or the willingness to examine your child in the waiting room.


4. Prepare your child for what will happen at the visit.

Once you find the perfect place, start preparing with your child. Start talking about all the things in a dental office long before you bring them. Give them a chance to get used to dentistry. Talk about their five senses. What will they see? What will they smell and hear? What will they taste? What will they feel? Get specific. “When the dentist looks at your teeth, she may want to count them. She will wear a glove and use her finger to touch inside your mouth.” You can show your child what this will look and feel like. You can simulate this experience at home in a helpful trial run. Do a mock examination counting teeth at home in the lounge room. You can even request and wear gloves and a mask to make it feel more real. Ask if you can make a video in the office before your child visits. It doesn’t have to be fancy — what you’re looking for is a short video walk-through. Give your child a way to familiarize the look of the place without sounds, smells, and taste.


5. Don’t force anything.

When you finally get there with your child, don’t force anything. If your child wants to leave immediately after arrival, just stay long enough to say hello and spread some joy. You want the office to be a pleasure. Don’t stress about getting the actual exam. It’s ok if it doesn’t happen! Not all dentists will, but it’s worth asking if your dentist will consider doing the exam in the waiting room. Some offices offer desensitization tours, in which your child can tour the office, experience the sights and sounds, and meet the staff without an actual procedure or treatment. Talk to your dentist about training good oral hygiene habits with your child, such as toothbrushing, how to floss, what toothpaste to use, and other ways to practice good oral care.


6. Accessorize with familiarity.

Bring favourite headphones. Noise-cancelling? Overhead or earbuds? Bring familiar sunglasses. Other items to consider bringing blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, favourite toy.

Bringing a child who has autism to the dentist is likely to be a challenge. It doesn’t have to be impossible. Take your time. Plan. Give your child space and time. Set them up for success by facing each sensory concern directly and specifically. Aim for happiness and expect success.


7. Practice Cavity Prevention at Home

Ultimately, procedures to fix cavities will always be more uncomfortable than prevention strategies, such as routine cleanings.

Teach your child how to brush his/her teeth and do your best to watch dietary habits that may lead to cavities. Prevention is always better than a cure especially when we are facing the added challenges associated with ASD in the dental clinic.

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