How to Prepare your Autistic Child or Dental Visits?
Visiting the dentist can become a traumatic experience if you don’t prepare your autistic child properly. In these children, not only are there the usual fears of possible pain, but the sounds, lights, tastes, strange sensations in the mouth, anxiety, and communication difficulties make the dental visit more challenging.
Therefore, visits to the dentist can be a real challenge for the child, their family, and the professional. However, with adequate preparation and support, the experience can be positive and successful. Here are some tips that will help you prepare your child with ASD to go to the dentist with more peace of mind.
Tips to prepare your autistic child before visiting the dentist
According to an article published in the European Journal of Paediatric Dentistry, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have an increased risk of bruxism, tooth decay, periodontal problems, ulcerations, dental erosions, and traumatic injuries. For this reason, dental care plays a key role in the oral health care of these children.
If you want the dental visit to be pleasant and positive for your autistic child, you’ll need to take some steps prior to the appointment. Before the dental visit takes place, there are many things you can work on at home to make the dental office experience easier and better.
Here are some tips to consider when planning a dental visit for your child with ASD.
1. Find a specialized dentist
It’s important to take the time to find a dentist with experience in caring for children with special needs. Not all professionals can handle the additional demands of children with ASD. Specialized pediatric dentists can make a big difference in your child’s dental care.
Ask for recommendations, interview the dentist, and visit the office. This way, you can choose the option that best suits your child’s needs and gives you peace of mind.
When scheduling a dental appointment for your child, tell the dentist everything you think is relevant about your child. Explain your child’s likes, dislikes, fears, and usual reactions so that the dentist will be more prepared.
2. Discuss the subject with your child
Before going to the dentist, it’s important that your child understands the situation they’ll be exposed to. You know your child better than anyone else, so you should use the resources you know will help them understand better. Here are some alternatives that may be useful.
Talk to your child about the dental visit, explain what will happen, what they’ll see, the smells, sounds, tastes, and sensations they’ll experience, and answer all their questions. Let them know that they may be afraid, but that you’ll be by their side to accompany them.
Stories, picture books, and videos on the subject allow you to tell your child what will happen in the dental office. A study by the University of Illinois and the University of Washington looked at the contribution of children’s stories about dental visits in preparing children with ASD.
For 64% of parents, these stories were an effective tool. Families expressed that the stories helped them practice before the exam and reduce the fear of the unknown.
Through play, you can be the dentist and your child can be the patient. Practice basic procedures, such as opening the mouth, counting teeth, and using a small mirror. This will help your child learn what happens in the dental office, become familiar with the sensations in the mouth, and develop more control in order to collaborate.
Create a social story with the use of pictograms
Use visual tools to help your child better understand new and unfamiliar situations. Create a story about visiting the dentist. Include step-by-step descriptions and pictures of what will happen during the appointment. Look at them regularly to help your child become familiar with the procedures and feel more prepared.
If possible, take actual pictures of the office entrance, waiting room, and dental office so your child knows about them beforehand.
Work on sensations
Different sensations may arise in your child’s mouth at the dental office. Using gloves, gauze, and mirrors that your child can hold in their mouth will better prepare them for dental appointments.
3. Set up familiarization appointments
Another way to help your child with autism overcome anxieties and fears is to schedule a familiarization appointment with the dentist. This visit consists of touring the dental office with your child and meeting the professional before any work is done on the teeth. This way, the next time your child goes for dental care, they’ll already know the dentist.
4. Prepare your child before the appointment
It’s important that on the day of the dental visit, your child with autism knows where they’re going and why. It would be best if you tell them the plan a few hours before you leave. Don’t rush them to leave, as this could increase their anxiety.
It’s also a good idea for your child to bring an object of their preference to the dentist’s office to make them feel more secure – such as a toy, a pillow, or a blanket – or a device to entertain them.
Learn how to accompany your child with autism to the dentist
Once you’re at the dental office, it’s important that you continue accompanying your child to provide them with the security they need. At that moment, you’ll work as a team with the professional to provide your little one with a pleasant and positive experience.
According to an article published by CES University called “Dentistry for Autistic Patients“, dentists have special techniques to facilitate care for patients with ASD. Advanced techniques correspond to communication tools, such as tone of voice and nonverbal communication, clothing, distractions, rewards, and parental presence.
These techniques require more complex procedures that help relax the patient in order to be able to perform dental treatments. They include the use of nitrous oxide, intravenous sedation, protective stabilization, and general anesthesia. The dentist will recommend them in complex cases, in which the simplest approach strategies aren’t sufficient.
Your presence during the dental consultation will give your child peace of mind and confidence. Here are some strategies to keep in mind.
Try to be understanding, empathetic, and kind to your child during the dental visit. Your child may have difficulty communicating, expressing emotions, or tolerating certain procedures. If your child is stressed or nervous about the dental procedure, they need reassurance.
Keep in mind that dental care for this type of patient may take longer and require many visits. Don’t expect everything to be resolved in one appointment.
Create a comfortable environment for your little one
Find a way to adapt the dental office to make your child feel comfortable and relaxed. The dentist will be happy to listen to your suggestions and take them into consideration. Here are some suggestions:
- If your little one has trouble with bright lights, have them put on dark glasses.
- Does noise bother them? Then give them earplugs or let them put on headphones with their favorite songs.
- Play their favorite videos.
- Offer your little one comforting objects to help them stay calm.
- Bring stickers for your child to distribute and put their own stamp on the office.
- Consider starting dental care in the waiting room until your little one is confident enough to move to the chair.
Encourage your child
Congratulating your little one for their accomplishments and cooperation will motivate them to continue with the dental visit. Express to them that they’re doing great and that you’re proud of them.
Remember that your guidance is key
For children with autism, the stimuli of a dental visit can be overwhelming. With your guidance, support, and patience, you can prepare your autistic child and help them overcome their anxieties and enjoy dental appointments.
Be prepared and communicate with them in a clear and understandable way before the visit, providing them with the necessary information and reassurance. During the appointment, remain calm and show patience and constant support. Consider using anxiety management strategies, such as relaxing music or deep breathing technique.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Acuña, J., & Mendoza, C. I. (2020). Uso de Pictograma en paciente con Trastorno del Espectro Autista (TEA) en odontología. Relato de caso. Revista Científica Odontológica, 2(1). http://revistacientifica.uaa.edu.py/index.php/ReCO-UAA/article/view/917
- Alcívar Zambrano, W. E. (2021). TRASTORNOS ESPECTRO AUTISTA Y SU ABORDAJE EN PACIENTES PEDIÁTRICOS. http://repositorio.sangregorio.edu.ec/handle/123456789/2302
- Ferrazzano, G. F., Salerno, C., Bravaccio, C., Ingenito, A., Sangianantoni, G., & Cantile, T. (2020). Autism spectrum disorders and oral health status: review of the literature. European journal of paediatric dentistry, 21(1), 9–12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32183521/
- Karimi, M. (2018). How to Prepare Children with Autism to Visit a Dentist? Modern approaches in dentistry and oral health care. https://lupinepublishers.com/dental-and-oral-health-journal/fulltext/how-to-prepare-children-with-autism-to-visit-a-dentist.ID.000156.php
- Marion, I. W., Nelson, T. M., Sheller, B., McKinney, C. M., & Scott, J. M. (2016). Dental stories for children with autism. Special Care in Dentistry, 36(4), 181-186. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/scd.12167
- Marulanda, J., Aramburo, E., Echeverri, A., Ramírez, K., & Rico, C. (2013). Odontología para pacientes autistas.(Dentistry for the Autistic Patient). CES Odontología, 26(2), 120–126. https://revistas.ces.edu.co/index.php/odontologia/article/view/2809