Dental Care for Everyone: Children With Autism

If you have a son or daughter on the autism spectrum, you’ll know that taking them to the dentist can be a challenge. Sitting in the dentist’s chair is already a terrifying thought for many children. With all the odd-looking tools, loud drilling noises, and the sterilizing smell of medical solutions, sensory issues can certainly disrupt your little one’s visit.

Dental care for children with autism

At Smile Town, we have years of experience handling oral care for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because we’re sensitive to their unique needs, our team is well-versed in how to make your child’s visit a comfortable one.

If you’re thinking of bringing your special-needs child to a pediatric dentist, read our guide on how to ensure a smooth experience for everyone.

Preparation

When looking for a dentist, call the office and discuss your child’s needs. Many pediatric dentists will have experience interacting with children on the spectrum. For this reason, it may be worthwhile to seek out a pediatric dentist as opposed to a general one. During your discussion, ask the following questions:

  • How much experience do you have with autistic children?
  • Do you have special procedures in place to ensure a comfortable visit? What are they?
  • May I accompany my child into the examining room?

Many children with ASD have ups and downs throughout the day. Make sure the dental clinic is able to accommodate appointments at a time of day when your child is at his or her best. If your child tends to get impatient or irritable quickly, ask if the office has short wait times. It’s also important to stress that you’d prefer if the same staff care for your child at each visit to ensure consistency.

If you’re uncomfortable with the clinic’s response to your concerns, consider another dentist. Never sacrifice your child’s well-being for the sake of convenience. There are many dentists out there who have the personal and professional skills to make your son or daughter feel safe and comfortable.

Sensory Challenges

A dental office can be overstimulating for children with autism. All the tastes, smells, and sounds, not to mention the sterile lights and the reclining motion of the dental chair, can be distracting. By understanding which sensory elements cause distress, you’ll be able to come up with coping strategies ahead of time. Your input, plus a cooperative dental team, are key to a successful visit.

For example, if your son or daughter hates the feeling of being moved backwards, ask the dental assistant if they can recline the chair before your child gets on. The lighting may also be very bright. Let your child put on sunglasses before heading into the examination room. And ask staff if they can try to keep the overhead light directly out of your child’s eyes.

Meanwhile, if your child is particular about taste and texture, bring their own toothbrush and toothpaste to the visit. Here are some other tips to lessen the effects of sensory overload:

  • Let your child stretch a therapy band in their hands to release tension.
  • Give your child a heavy work task before and after the visit to promote calming.
  • Request an examination room at the quietest end of the office or a more private area.
  • Consider using noise-cancelling headphones or an iPod with music to limit distractions.

Communication

If your autistic child has great difficulty expressing his thoughts or recognizing a problem, feelings of anxiety and frustration may overcome him. To avoid this, make sure your dental professional is able to communicate effectively. Discomfort can be minimized if your child is told exactly what’s happening, so there are no surprises.

Tell-Show-Do: Explain to the dental staff that the best way to communicate the procedure to your child is using the tell-show-do method. Tell your son or daughter what’s going to happen. Next, show the tool or action they’re going to use. Third, do the task only after the first two steps are fulfilled. This type of verbal preparation and demonstration will eliminate some of the uncertainty.

Here are some additional ways to communicate with your child in a way that makes him or her more at ease:

  • Explain ahead of time how long something is going to last; instruct the dental team to prompt the child with time durations as they perform each task.
  • Let staff know that your child responds well to immediate praise. If he or she does something when asked, provide a positive response right away; this will help your child make the link between actions and consequences.
  • Ask the dental staff to ignore inappropriate behaviours as much as they can.

Lastly, the concept of modeling is very effective for kids with ASD. Consider bringing their sibling or friend to the appointment. Your child can watch the dentist work on someone else’s teeth, so he or she can see there’s nothing to fear.

Why choose Smile Town?

Taking your child to the dentist can present difficulties for both the parent and dental staff. At Smile Town, we understand each child is unique. Our team is always willing to work with the parent to make each visit as smooth and productive as possible. We always encourage parent participation in their kids’ oral health. So never hesitate to provide tips on how we can make the experience more enjoyable for your special-needs child. 

For more information about dental care for a child with ASD, call Smile Town at 1-866-533-9440 or contact us here.