Trips to the dental office can be difficult for anyone. And, children with special needs may require a greater level of care. The good news is that a lot can be done to mitigate the chance of an unpleasant experience – all it takes is a little bit of planning and coaching to get there. With that in mind, we put together a collection of useful approaches that will help you and your child navigate your first, or next, dental visit.
- Visit Early: First and foremost, after the arrival of your child’s first tooth, you should already be on the docket for a visit to the dentist. Since autism spectrum disorders don’t commonly manifest until around the age of three, this gives parents and children some time to adapt to the visit. Avoiding the dentist until later in a child’s development, particularly until after problems arise (like cavities) can be problematic. Initiating the process of familiarization with the dentist at an early age reduces dental anxiety among all children, so go early.
- Read up! You’re likely already familiar with the Autism Speaks website, and the wealth of supportive material regarding autism and your child. You may not have noticed, though, their superb Dental Toolkit which features free iTunes downloadable books for kids, videos, and even materials you can share with your dentist about working with your child. The standout item on the site, though, is a highly visual 34-page booklet created in partnership with the National Museum of Dentistry that covers everything from how to teach good oral hygiene to how to prepare for your routine dental visits.
- Learn from the Doctor’s Perspective: Your dentist may have more experience than you realize working with children with special needs. The best way to go about preparing for your visit is to speak with the doctor directly and ask about what to expect. The Dental Professionals’ Tool Kit will help you see inside that instruction and arm you with meaningful advice that isn’t always covered in offerings to parents. Anyone can download the material, dentist or not, so have a look-see!
- Find a Doctor Who Specializes: Finally, should you feel more comfortable doing so, seek out a dentist who specializes in dealing with children with autism. Some dentists (particularly those in larger metropolitan areas) pursue additional training that helps them cater to autistic patients. Such training is structured around reducing stress and making children feel comfortable both inside the dental office and at home.