One of the biggest challenges parents face is getting their child comfortable at the dentist’s office. In fact, for most, the dentist’s office can bring some anxiety. Loud dental instruments, bright lights, and music can all be overwhelming for children who are sensitive to their surroundings. However, there are many actions dentists are willing to take for children with an autism spectrum disorder so they feel more comfortable when receiving oral care.
Oral health is a crucial part of an individual’s well-being. While maintaining a good oral health routine for children with sensory processing disorder can be a very trying task, determination can bring positive results and rewards. Reactions to certain stimuli vary; some people with autism may be more sensitive to light and noise, and not disturbed by pain and heat. Finding a dentist who will work with you and your child is crucial and can take some time and research.
When finding a dentist, consider the following:
Don’t be afraid to ask any questions. Even bringing up specific issues your child may have is okay. Do not be concerned with sounding troublesome. It is an important part of your child’s health and the more questions you and the dentist have answered, the better prepared everyone is.
Record the office before bringing your child in. An idea that helps some children with sensory processing disorder is to ask the dentist if they will allow you to walk through and video the layout and setup of the office. Showing this to your child prior to seeing the dentist makes them feel more at ease when they arrive at the office.
Also, ask the dentist if you can bring your child in prior to their first appointment. That way your child is familiar with the facility and can meet the staff.
Begin explaining dentists, dental tools, dentist’s offices and their settings early and incorporating the vocabulary to make your child more familiar. Once you have selected a dentist that you feel is the best fit for you and your child, make a plan so that things go as smoothly as possible.
Some families bring headphones and sunglasses to help with sound and light sensory support.
Aim to start with “happy visits.” If the first visit does not accomplish all that is expected at a first routine checkup, do not be discouraged. The goal is for your child to feel comfortable going to the dentist.
Viewing pictures outlining the process of a dental visit allow the child to know what to expect and give them an understanding of when the visit will be near its end.
Sometimes a child is more likely to be cooperative if they see their parent have their teeth looked at by the dentist first.
Dental care at home is crucial for any child. Below are some sensory friendly ideas to make things easier at home if your child has a difficult time with oral care:
Austismspeaks.org suggests using a timer so that the individual with an autism spectrum disorder can actually see when the task will be over.
Picking out the right toothbrush is a very important first step, and can even be a fun part of the process for some children. Autismspeaks.org says to begin with a soft bristle brush.
The American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association suggests exploring cartoons and short video clips that review the process and importance of dental hygiene.
All of the “do’s and don’ts” of sensory friendly dental care can be overwhelming for parents, especially for those who have to focus greatly on sensory issues in their child’s everyday tasks. If one method of making dental care easier for your child does not work, try something else. Remember, no one knows your child better than you do. Try to start with a recommendation that you feel would most likely help your child succeed. Do not give up. Dental hygiene is incredibly important for every individual’s overall health. Always keep in mind that the main goal is for your child to gain as much independence at each task as they can.