I am so happy to welcome Dr. Greg Grillo, pediatric dentist who has an interest in special needs dentistry. Dr. Grillo gives some great tips on how to help prepare your child with Autism for dental appointments, a situation that is well known to provoke overstimulation and other sensory-related issues. Please welcome Dr. Grillo!
When a child with Autism displays symptoms of a sensory processing disorder, going to the dentist can be a bit overwhelming. There are many sensory elements that come with being at the dentist. Bright lights, loud noises, tastes and smells of oral care products, and being touched by people are a few of them.
I have been practicing family dentistry for 17 years and I know that offices like mine try to make our dental practices kid-friendly, especially for patients with special needs. Going to the dentist does not have to be scary and there are ways to overcome sensory issues your special needs child may be facing before it’s time for their visit.
1. Practice the process at home
Prior to visiting the dentist, there are quite a few things you can do right at home to familiarize your child with the sensory elements they may feel at the dentist. They can practice movements such as putting their hands on their stomach, putting their feet out straight, and opening their mouth wide and holding it open.
You can also get them used to other feelings and sounds that they might experience. For example, have you or a family member touch your child’s mouth with rubber gloves, or try brushing their teeth with an electric toothbrush so they can get a sense of the vibrations. You can also find some high volume or high-pitched sounds that they may hear during their visit.
If your child can get an idea of what they might feel or hear at the dentist office can make them more comfortable when it’s time for their appointment.
2. Schedule a desensitization appointment
A special needs dentist may offer a desensitization appointment to be scheduled before the actual dental visit. This would help your child become familiar with the office and staff. Also, being able to see the chairs and equipment is a good way for your child to become more comfortable in the dentist office.
As mentioned, this is a great time for you and your child to get to know the office staff. The office staff can learn about any specific needs that your child may have and be made aware of any special accommodations that need to be made for the scheduled visit.
3. Find toys to bring for distraction
Toys and fidget items can be a great distraction while at the dentist. Does your child have a favorite? Before a visit, have your child choose a couple of their toys and pack them in a bag to bring to their appointment. Not only is a toy something that will bring joy to your child during the visit, but holding their toy can distract them from what is happening in their mouth. Your dentist office may also have some toys or items for your child to choose from but having a familiar toy can help them feel less uncomfortable.
Another great distraction at the dentist is being able to play one of your child’s favorite movies or TV shows. Some dentist offices have video screens available but if not, you should ask if you can bring an iPad or portable DVD player. This will serve as a good distraction for your child by giving them something else to focus on while the dentist is at work.
Before your child visits the dentist, there are many things you can do to overcome sensory issues your child may have. As a parent, you are their biggest support system, so take advantage of what you can do to help your child. The dentist can be overwhelming but having a plan for overcoming any sensory issues can help ease some anxieties!