All parents face difficulties taking their young children to dentist appointments. However, if you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, you know that ordinary difficulties are often magnified when it comes to your child. Children with ASD are easily overstimulated or overwhelmed, and may have greater difficulty with the sensations they'll experience at the dentist's office than other children. However, your child with ASD still needs regular dental care just as much as any child. Here are some tips to help you manage.
Choose Your Dentist Carefully
It's often not enough to go to the family dentist when you have a child with ASD. You're better off with a dentist specializing in pediatric dentistry, particularly one who has training and experience with special needs children, and whose staff is sensitive to your child's needs.
Don't try to start off by going directly to the dentist's chair. A good dentist who understands children with ASD will understand that it's best to introduce them to new people and situations gradually. Start off with at least one trial run. Bring your child to the dentist's office to meet the staff, play in the waiting room, and explore the treatment area. Have the staff demonstrate how the dentist's chair works and what the various instruments do. Talk about what will happen during your child's tooth cleaning.
Reduce Sensory Overload
Bright lights, strange noises, and too many unfamiliar people can all overload your child's senses and cause the meltdown that you want to avoid. Plan ahead to reduce the chances of sensory overload when it's time for your child's dentist appointment.
Bring headphones and music that your child enjoys to drown out the sound of whirring dental tools. Bring a pair of sunglasses so that your child won't be bothered by the bright overhead light. Bring a beloved toy, a comfort object like a stuffed animal or blanket, or a favorite storybook. Talk to your dentist about the number of staff members in the room – it should be kept to a minimum in order to keep your child from being overwhelmed by all the new people. You should plan to stay in the room at all times – preferably in your child's line of sight.
While the decision to medicate your child for a dental procedure is up to you, you should at least talk to your dentist about your medication options. A sedative might be the gentlest way to get the job done, particularly if your child needs a filling or other potentially painful procedure. Even if you decide against it in the end, it's best to be fully informed about all of your options.
Taking your child with ASD to the dentist may be challenging, but it will be worth the time and patience you'll need to put in to ensure they have a good experience. Positive early dental care experiences help set your child up for a lifetime of good oral health.