Contributed by Dr. Steven DeLisle
Start Early and at Home
The best way to get your child used to the dentist is to nurture healthy oral hygiene habits from an early age. Starting at home, right in the bathroom, helps to familiarize your child with the tasks of brushing teeth and flossing. You can also stress how essential these habits are for a healthy mouth and a happy smile.
Turning it into a fun activity is okay. Let your little one pick out a colorful toothbrush that features a beloved character. Pick out a flavored toothpaste, as well. Stress gentleness as you teach your child brushing and flossing techniques. You can create a chart to help your little girl or guy to remember when to brush throughout the day and evening. Put it together with colors and characters that appeal to your kid.
Play Pretend at Home
Children with ASD often fear the exam room and everything that happens in the scary dentist's chair. Practicing at home can ease those fears exponentially. Playing the part of the dentist, you can teach your child what to expect and how to behave. Practice opening up and saying “ahhh,” lying straight and still, and not fidgeting.
Be Proactive about Sensory Overload
The sounds and sensations at the dentist can trigger anxiety and fear in children with ASD. They can close their eyes, but that doesn't do much to erase the feeling of metal scraping across their teeth or a bib circling their neck. You know what affects your child, so proactively prepare before the first dental check-up and be mindful of any potential challenges related to the environmental factors of the building as a whole.
Noise-canceling headphones are helpful for children who can wear them comfortably. Either way, soothing music that your child loves can drown out the sound of various instruments. Bring along any toys or meaningful touchstones. Read a story to soothe those jangled nerves. Dress your child in loose, comfortable clothing. For children who hate bright lights, bring along their favorite sunglasses.
If your child experiences intense anxiety when introduced to your dentist’s office, you may want to consider sedation dentistry as an option. During this kind of procedure, your dentist administers nitrous oxide, oral sedation, or IV sedation before treatment to alleviate anxiety and leave your child with little to no memory of the procedure. While sedation dentistry is fairly common, it’s important to consult your dentist and your doctor prior to scheduling a sedation procedure.
Communication is Key
Not only do you need to communicate with your child, but you should both feel free to talk to the dentist, the hygienist, and everyone else who works in the office. Don't let your child feel scared or unsure about anything. For each visit, remind the office that your kiddo has special needs.
Maintaining a healthy diet for your child is necessary, too. Avoid foods and drinks that cause cavities. More than anything, preparing your child for what to expect is the best way to ensure that going to the dentist isn't a distressing appearance.
Author Bio: Dr. Steven DeLisle is a pediatric dentist who specializes in sedation dentistry and has experience treating children with special needs. He is the founder of Children’s Dentistry in Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing pediatric dental practices in the country.