Helping your child acclimate to the process of visiting a dentist will be essential for their long-term health. Dentists recommend visits at least once a year, if not more often, so year-round preparation will help children with special needs adjust to the dentist’s office environment and be brave the day of their appointment. Here are some things you can do to help a child with autism through a dentist visit, before and after their appointment.
Call Ahead With the Dentist
Reaching out to pediatric dentists in your area is the perfect first step to ensuring that your child’s visit goes smoothly. Don’t hesitate to ask if they have experience working with children with special needs. You may want to schedule a consultation over the phone with the dentist or dental hygienist to go over their standard procedure for children with autism and what you would want to prepare your child for. Picking the right pediatric dentist for your child will be crucial to making this a positive experience.
Start Preparation Early
You will have the task of getting your child ready for the big day. If your son or daughter already struggles with brushing, rinsing, or spitting, focus on these smaller tasks and help them adjust to the sensations. Teaching good oral hygiene will make dental visits much easier on you both in the long run. You may also want to prepare a visual schedule, so your child understands each of the steps occurring and how many are left to go.
Consider Your Child’s Unique Needs
For children with sensory issues, a visit to the dentist is an overstimulating and frightening ordeal. The sounds, smells, and bright visuals can be extremely difficult for children with autism to tolerate. If your child is used to noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, or weighted blankets, bring these items along to help your child remain comfortable. Many pediatricians also have televisions in children’s rooms, so ask if you will be able to play your child’s favorite video while the procedure goes on.
Establish a Reward System
Constant communication and comfort will be essential to helping your child through this, but rewards can also be motivation to get through the hardest parts, or at least be soothing for kids after they make it through. Often times, the dentist’s office will have a toothbrush and stickers waiting for kids after they finish on the dentist’s chair. You may also want to have your own gift waiting for them when you get back home to further congratulate them on getting through a hard day.
Helping a child with autism through a dentist visit is a demanding but ultimately rewarding experience. Successful visits to the dentist can also make doctor visits easier in the future by introducing similar concepts and can even play a part in making any hospital visit less frightening. Overall, the more comfortable your child is visiting their health care teams, the better they will feel and the healthier they will be.