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One of the things that parents of children with autism dread is that day when they have to take them to the dentist. It is quite understandable that parents would be nervous about this fact, considering even typical children don’t always do well when they go to the dentist. This is why it is essential for parents to plan and prepare for when they have to take their children with autism to the dentist because otherwise, it will be a painful ordeal.
There are several reasons that the dentist is such a difficult ordeal for children with autism (and yes, the parents as well). One major issue is that there is a lack of understanding. The child is not able to understand that he or she has to go to the dentist in order to maintain healthy gums and teeth. All the child knows is that he or she is forced to stay down on a reclining chair surrounded by strange equipment while strangers are forcing their fingers and instruments into his or her mouth. That is quite frightening!
Additionally, the sensory issues that a child with autism likely will have will make the dentist visit difficult. Bright lights are being flashed into the child’s face and that is overwhelming. The taste of the polish that is used to clean the teeth can make the child sick, or at the very least upset. The invasion of the child’s personal space can also potentially be distressing.
It is no wonder that parents dread taking their autistic children to the dentist because it is a scary experience for them, and as a result, it is very stressful for the parents.
However, there are 6 methods that parents can utilize in order to make the right preparations for when they have to take their kids to the dentist. These methods will make the situation a lot easier for the parents and for the children. Let’s go over them right now:
Utilize Visual Supports
Autistic individuals are either rote or visual learners. They will grasp situations much better if they see visual cues about something they are told will happen. For instance, as soon as parents make the dentist appointments for their kids, they should mark the appointments in the calendar and show the children the calendar. However, this recommendation may work the best for children that are on the higher functioning end of the spectrum.
But there is another thing that can be done for children on the spectrum when it comes to preparing them to take them to the dentist. The parents can take them to the building where the dentist office is to see where they are going. In fact, it is a good idea for them to make an appointment with the dentist for the purpose of the child seeing the office and the equipment before their actual dentist appointment. This will help them understand what to expect when they get their teeth cleaned.
Social Stories Are Effective
It is highly recommended that parents utilize the tips mentioned in the first step. And adding a social story to it as well can only help make the child understand what to expect at the dentist’s appointment a little better. If they know ahead of time that their mouths will be tampered with and cleaned with strange instruments, this will make it a little easier for them to cope with the cleaning.
In addition to social stories, sequence pictures are helpful to the child as well because that will show them what to expect. The pictures should be broken down by what to expect in each part of the visit. An example would be to have the first sequence picture of the child going to the dentist’s office. Then the next picture would be the child sitting down onto the dentist’s chair. The next one after that would be the dentist using instruments to look into the child’s mouth, and so on.
The benefits of sequence pictures are that it shows the child fully what to expect during the entire visit at the dentist step by step. This will help reduce anxiety a lot in the child.
Indications Of Time Limits
Kids under the spectrum will be able to handle situations such as going to the dentist a little better if they know that the visit will be temporary. This is why using timers at the dentist’s office will be a good idea. The child can watch the timer go down as the visit progresses. If the visit is expected to last for a half-hour, then the timer should be set for a half-hour and the child can watch it go down.
Comforting Material Can Go A Long Way
It is important to bring the child’s favorite toy or object to hold while he or she is at the dentist’s office. This is a general suggestion as parents of typical kids utilize this as well when they are taking them to the dentist for the first time. However, a comforting toy or object will help reduce anxiety during the visit.
Find A Pediatric Dentist That Treats Autistic Children
It is essential to find a pediatric dentist that has experience working on the mouths of autistic children. The right type of dentist will understand the child will likely have sensory issues and will minimize the light (they will have sunglasses which the parents can bring as well). They may use polishes that have little taste, and they will know how to handle the behaviors of the child as well.
Sometimes sedation will be the only option in some children that may be at the severe end of the spectrum where they will not be able to comprehend the recommendations given in the points above.
This means if you have a pediatric dentist you use for your typical child but would not be able to handle the behaviors of your autistic child, there is a good chance you will be given a recommendation as dentists would have references.
Even though taking the autistic child to the dentist is an ordeal that is unpleasant for the parents and the child, by making these preparations, it will help ease the experience somewhat.
For more information, check out the Autism and Dentistry lecture at Yale University below: