Preparing yourself and your child for the upcoming visit to the dentist can be quiet challenging especially if you don’t know what to expect.
As with any child, the key is in preparing your child for his upcoming visit. Sometimes for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) preparation can start anytime from one month in advance to a few months in advance for the parents and the dentist to get the best results.
Before delving into the tips every parent needs to know; let’s ask ourselves one question: what makes an autistic child’s visit to the dentist so special?
Simply, a child on the spectrum truly has different needs that we as health care professionals, must absolutely provide for in their visit. It’s no longer the “one size fits all approach”. It is tailor making the approach to better suit your child’s individualistic needs, be it sensory likes/dislikes, tantrum and the whole lot more!
Here you are, 10 tips for an easy breezy first dental visit for your autistic little one:
1. Pick the right dentist:
Find a dentist that has the proper qualifications and credentials for seeing your child. A pediatric dentist took extra education in handling special needs children. They are best suited along with their well-trained team in Pediatric dentistry to give your child the home he/she deserves.
2. Call ahead:
Let the team know beforehand your coming in with your child and give them a brief about your child’s condition.
3. Appointment slot:
Request the appointment time that your child can be nice and calm at. It’s always a good idea to avoid nap times as children may be cranky right before it or disoriented directly after it.
4. Share your child’s story:
Let the dentist know your child’s likes/dislikes (sensitivities or specific aversions) ahead of time. It will give a chance to cater to the child’s specific needs and make the visit as autism-friendly as possible. Unfortunately though, as much as we would like to avoid triggering our child’s sensitivity, the dental office is full of triggers varying from weird loud noises, awful smells, bright lights and odd tastes.
A dental office may sometimes be more like an attack on the senses for a little one with autism! Even though we can’t change this as a fact, but our understanding of that as parents and healthcare professionals allows us to see the visit in a completely different light!
5. Short waiting time:
Shorter (to non-existent waiting times) will make sure the child has less chances for a meltdown during the waiting area!
6. Start early:
Believe it or not, just starting early with strict oral hygiene protocols helps your little one in their dental visit. Unfortunately, sometimes parents have a lot on their plate and they make oral health a second priority. The big problem comes when their child develops a cavity that needs to be filled. Coming in with pain is already “game over”. Since work needs to be done, whether the child is acclimatized to the dentist and the office or not, the procedure must be done!
From my experience, it is so traumatic for both the child and the parents (and not to forget the poor dentist and his team taking a beating and one or two bites!- ouch!)
7. Don’t Give up:
Sadly most children with autism don’t accept the toothbrush easily. Don’t lose hope, it’s a great idea to see the dentist first before taking your child in to be seen by the dentist.
They can strategize with you and come up with effective ways to introduce the brush and the paste.
8. Don’t lose hope:
With children, they always say “consistency is key”; with autism, it is an absolute must you be consistent with your efforts until you crack the “code”! I assure you, from experience, it will be cracked eventually; it just needs persistence, perseverance, and every adjective you can apply for just plain surviving! It takes sometimes trying every brush and paste in the market for the one brush and one paste to work! You can do it!
9. General and oral health go together:
Have one message or story for your child on daily repeat: “oral health is a part of your daily bodily routines”- it is important! Again, since the child needs to take care of his body, either way, it can be combined effort instead of two separate things.
10. Social Stories: your new best friend
They are a great and powerful tool. They work on so many levels. Letting the child know what to expect and how to expect it can be the difference between night and day.
Social stories and visual guides of going to the dentist explain the situation quite clearly to a child in a way that makes it less threatening and more acceptable.
Honestly, they may not work with every child. Sometimes, the child learns the social story but pulls a tantrum at the dentist’s office all the same. However, reviewing the social story daily allows for an element of familiarity; more often than not, the child’s tantrum is more like objecting to treatment rather than being scared or psychologically traumatized from treatment! It so happens, he/she is not in the mood to help! Completely understandable! It happens!
Some dentists have a personalized social story, getting in touch with them early allows for you to train your child to this particular dentists office!
To conclude, there are a lot of challenges that present to you as a parent of a child with ASD. The great news is with a lot of love and acceptance, and a little amount of preparation and some tips and tricks; you and your dentist can give your child the great dental visit he needs and deserves.
This article first appeared on EWMums
Dr. Yasmin Kottait DDS, HDD, MFDS Ed, MSc
A pediatric dentist with a special mission: spreading smiles to children wherever she goes.
Currently working in MyPediaClinic in Dubai Health Care City