Going to the dentist can make anyone feel anxious. However, for children with autism, this is a completely new experience with some challenging sensory elements such as bright lights and loud noises. This unfamiliar environment can make going to the dentist incredibly overwhelming. As a dentist who has been practising family dentistry for 17 years, I know how real these fears can be, and it’s always my goal to make sure a patient is as comfortable as possible. Luckily, there are many ways that you can help your child overcome their sensory issues too. Dental care is extremely important, so that’s why I have come up with some helpful tips for you and your child to become more comfortable at the dentist.
1) Talk with your dentist
If your child is feeling anxious about their dental appointment, simply start by talking to your dentist. This is a great idea because they can give you their own advice on how to help your child with this experience. Plus, this is a great chance to ask your dentist any questions that you have. As I mentioned, it’s a dentist’s goal to make sure all patients are as comfortable as possible.
If any special accommodations need to be made to assure that your child has a good visit, a good dental practice will be more than willing to make those accommodations. Some of the most common is using a specific flavour of toothpaste, using a soft blanket during the visit, wearing sunglasses to help with the bright lights, and using headphones to listen to music or watch a movie. Anything you feel can help with your child’s visit, a dentist will most likely make work, within reason.
2) Practice at home
Working on sensory issues at home is a great way to teach children oral hygiene and help them feel more confident at their dental visit. At home, begin by implementing a good dental care routine. This should include brushing and flossing every day, plus eating a healthy diet. This will help your child have an idea of what dental hygiene is and help them understand the importance of visiting a dentist.
You can work through any sensory issues they have by utilising visuals such as stories and videos to show your child what a dental visit looks like. This will help them become more familiar with the environment of a dental office. You can also play a role-playing game and turn your home into a dental office. Have your child practice lying flat with their hands on their stomach and opening their mouth wide. Making this into a fun game can help them become comfortable when they have to stay in this position at their appointment.
3) Schedule a familiarisation appointment
Most dentists will offer familiarisation appointments for children with sensory issues. These appointments are a great way for your child to see the dental office and meet the office staff members before any work is done on their teeth. They can become more comfortable with the environment before their actual dental appointment. Talk to your dentist about scheduling an appointment like this to help your child with any sensory issues or anxiety they may be feeling about their dental visit.
Children with autism may experience sensory issues at the dentist, but there are ways to overcome these issues and turn them into something positive. It’s a dentist’s goal to make your child as comfortable as possible, and there are many ways you can work together to help them too. Embrace the learning experience and persevere through the challenges. Your child can become confident at the dentist so it’s important to never give up.