by Joanna Keating-Velasco, author of "A is for Autism, F is for Friend"
Sensory Challenges and Oral Hygiene
We all know that developing good dental habits during childhood and scheduling a regular trip to the dentist office is important for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. However, for many children (and adults for that matter), there is an inherent fear of going to the dentist. Add the “isms” that many of our children with special needs experience and a visit to the dentist can be a nightmare for parents, children and even the dental staff.
Sensory challenges, inability to sit still, fear of strangers and potentially aggressive behaviors are just some of the reasons for an impending disaster at the dentist office.
Due to these challenges, many individuals with these issues face increased oral health problems which can lead to pain, trouble eating, infection and potentially some long-term medical issues. To treat these issues at the dental office, families impacted by special needs need to plan and prepare well in advance for success at these appointments.
Here are seven tips to get your started for your first trip to the dentist:
1. Find a Pediatric Dentist
Find a pediatric dentist trained or able to work with children who have “isms.” Try the parent grapevine to get referrals from parents who have children, like yours, who need to receive appropriate care.
2. Meet & Greet
Meet with the dentist before bringing your child there. Perhaps have a little “getting to know me” book about your child. This should list his/her special interests, behavior/sensory triggers and any helpful knowledge about your child.
If appropriate, mention to the dentist that using the heavy-weighted x-ray blanket could provide pressure which might help calm your child. Find out at this time exactly what the first real appointment will entail so that you can “front load” and prepare your child. If during this visit, you don’t feel comfortable with the feedback you are getting from the dentist, continue your search for a dentist.
3. All Things Visual
Provide visuals, to the dental office, that are appropriate for your child and the upcoming visit. Ask permission to take pictures of their waiting room, exam room, lights, seat and equipment. Briefly explain to the dental staff how these visuals work and how well they can work. Perhaps leave a copy of them for their future use with other children.
4. Amp Up the Rewards
Provide additional rewards for use during the visit. This might be part of your visual system. It could be a token reward chart where the child earns stickers or stars for each success during the appointment. Or, it could be a countdown chart or time showing your child that there is a light at the end of the appointment “tunnel.” It might be as simple as bringing their favorite stuffed animal to hold during the appointment.
5. Create a Positive First Appointment Experience
Your child’s first visit to the dentist should not entail receiving a numbing shot and having a drill jammed into his little mouth. The first appointment should be your child meeting the dentist, sitting in the chair, showing him the tools and letting him try them out.
A simple tooth count (using a soft object) might be a fun way to gently enter the mouth. It should be a quick 5-10 minute “getting acquainted” with the office and staff ending with a trip to the treasure box. Make your child’s first impression of the dental office, a positive one.
6. Prepare your Child for the First Real” Appointment
This should begin at least a week ahead of the appointment. Start using the visuals that will be used during the actual dental exam.
7. Chunk the Treatments
If your child has a lot of dental work to be done, it might be best to breakdown the treatment into smaller appointments rather than one “never-ending” session.
Whatever Works Best For Your Child
Finally, even after trying all these tips and more, you might find that in order for your child to receive appropriate dental care, he might need to be sedated to handle the treatment. You may have a child who is extremely sensitive to touch
and can barely handle having his teeth brushed. Whatever works best for your child, it is vital that your child receive scheduled and regular dental cleanings
and checkups for good overall health.