For nearly every child, the first dental experience is a scary one. With new people, sights, and sounds it can be an overwhelming experience for anyone. For children with autism though, this first dental visit can be even more of a harrowing experience. Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier on both you and your child. With over 17 years of dental experience, I’ve worked with countless children with autism to help make their first dental experience a positive one. I’ve put together my top tips to hopefully help you do the same with your child.
Dr. Greg Grillo (dentably.com)
Finding The Right Dentist for Your Child
The first step in a successful dental experience is finding the right dentist. The right dentist can make the experience so much easier, as well as provide valuable insight on how to make it a more pleasant experience for your child.
There are a ton of resources for finding dentists like the American Dental Association or talking to your insurance provider to find in-network dentists. Doing a bit of research online is also helpful as many dentists will actively advertise their experience in working with children with special needs.
Once you’ve found a potential dentist never be afraid to ask them questions related to their experience. Things such as their experience working with children who have additional needs or the types of accommodations they can make are great places to start. Any dentist will be happy to answer these questions for you, and their answers should give you insight into whether they will be a good fit for you and your child.
How to Prepare For the Visit
Once you’ve found a dentist it’s important to prepare for the visit. The key here is to understand your child and what types of situations will make them uncomfortable. Then you can properly prepare for those events. Each child is unique, so you as the parent, are in the best position to know what these potential triggers are.
For example, if bright lights are a trigger for your child bringing a pair of sunglasses to wear can help minimize the effects. If loud noises do it, then a pair of earplugs to drown out some of the dentist tools might be helpful.
Another thing you can do is go over the procedures at home and practice. Using visual aids such as videos or pictures can help set the scene and give your child a preview of what is to come. In many cases, fear of the unknown is a huge cause of nerves on the day of the appointment. By introducing the elements of a dental appointment at home, it can help make that transition easier come appointment day.
You might also consider setting up a practice or familiarization appointment. This is an appointment where you and your child go and meet the dentist and the other people in the office. You’ll talk about the process, but don’t actually have to go through the procedure. This can be a great way to introduce an unfamiliar environment in an easier to digest manner.
It’s also a great way to prevent the overload of meeting new people. There are a lot of new faces your child will meet the day of their appointment, and this can be uncomfortable for a lot of children. By going to a familiarization appointment you get a chance to meet these people without the added pressure of undergoing dental work.
Lastly, never be afraid to bring up any of your concerns with your dentist. They will be happy to address all of your concerns and help set up any special accommodations you might need. With their experience, they might also have suggestions on how to help things go more smoothly, so never be afraid to reach out and ask for their advice. They are there to help you and your child!
What To Do During The Visit
During the visit, it’s important to keep all the above points in mind and stick to your plan. If things tend to be going in the wrong direction it’s okay to take a break, re-evaluate, and communicate with your dentist. This is also a good time to implement any calming strategies you might have in order to help diffuse the situation.
It’s also important to realize that dental care is not one and done, but a lifetime endeavor. That’s why it’s so important to start with a good dentist. You’ll have the opportunity to work with them for many years which can also be a benefit to your child, as seeing a familiar face at each cleaning can be calming. If your first appointment doesn’t go the greatest that’s okay. Evaluate what happened and work with your dentist to make sure that each appointment goes better than the last.
Going to the dentist can be a scary experience for children with autism, but it is a necessary one. Starting with a good dentist and learning what helps make it easier for your child is key to making their first experience a positive one. From there, keep learning and working to improve your process, and you’ll start a lifelong habit of successful dentist care for your child.