Preparing Children With Autism for the Dentist
Bringing a child to the dental office can be a daunting task for any parent but especially for parents of Autistic children. Here are 10 things you can do to prepare your child, and yourself,
for the dental visit. Following these tips will lead to a smoother experience for both of you and build your child’s comfort level for future appointments.
1) Make the upcoming appointment something for your child to look forward to. Talk about going to the dentist as something that’s necessary but not a big deal. Explain that just like exercising, dental visits are part of taking care of oneself and staying healthy.
2) When talking to your child about the dentist, use positive language. Don’t say, “It won’t hurt.” Kids probably won’t think of a visit to the dentist as a negative experience unless the issue of pain is discussed. After all, you wouldn’t say, “Let’s go to the park. It won’t hurt.” Talk to your child in a positive, honest way and use words they can understand.
3) Be careful not to transfer your fears about the dentist to your child. Too often, adults who fear the dentist (including parents and grandparents) will tell horror stories about their own experiences. If you are afraid of the dentist, do not share your fears with your child. A child who goes to the dentist without any preconceived notions is more likely to have a good experience.
4) Help your child understand what will happen during the visit. There are a number of children’s books about going to the dentist like Just Going to the Dentist, by Mercer Mayer. Read these books with your child before his or her first visit to familiarize your child with what will happen at the dental office. This will help lessen any potential anxiety.
5) Bring your child to the dentist at a young age. The earlier you bring kids to the dentist, the more comfortable they will feel there. Let them watch you or a sibling have their teeth cleaned. This allows the child to see the process and understand that it is not a painful experience.
6) Schedule your child’s appointment earlier in the day, when they are alert and refreshed. Appointments that are later in the day allow too much time for your child to become anxious and they may fixate on the unknowns of the experience. Also, the more tired they are, the less likely they are to cooperate.
7) Be sure to bring a list of your child’s medications and list their diagnosis on the medical forms for the dental file. The more your dentist knows about your child the better prepared they will be and can tailor the dental visit to suit your child’s needs.
8) Let the dentist do the talking. During the appointment, let the dentist speak to your child. Many dentists are skilled at making children feel comfortable and explaining the dental experience in a way they can understand. If your child expresses concern, you can support your child by holding their hand and reassuring them that they are okay.
9) Never threaten children with “shots” or painful dental procedures for not cooperating while in the dental chair. It is inevitable that children will need a dental procedure at some point in their lives. There is no reason to associate fear with the dentist when positive reinforcement works so much better. Threatening with a “shot” creates unnecessary anxiety and will backfire on you.
10) Plan a course of action for any possible reactions your child may have. Because Aspergers symptoms can vary from child to child, it is important to not have any preconceived notions of how your child should behave in the dental chair. Very young children may be fussy and not want to sit still. Others may become very frightened and cry. Some children may not react negatively at all. Some may enjoy the appointment very much! If your child has a comfort item (ie. a favorite toy or stuffed animal) allow them to have it with them during their appointment. This may help comfort them during their visit.
Dr. Josie Dovidio graduated from Northwestern University Dental School, in 1997, with honors from the Academy of General Dentistry. She is a family dentist in Simi Valley, California.
Dr. Josie (as most patients call her) spends her spare time delighting in her husband and 2 sons, one of which has Asperger’s Syndrome. Through various therapies, of which dietary changes have been the most effective, she has seen tremendous improvements of symptoms and behaviors commonly associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In an effort to help parents who have children on the Autism Spectrum, she shares her experiences and gluten-free, casein-free recipes on her personal blog, SharingMom.