A Visit to the Dentist for the Autistic Child: Challenging but not Traumatic

With a little research and preparation, autistic children can have an anxiety-free dental checkup.

With a little research and preparation, autistic children can have an anxiety-free dental checkup.

Going to the dentist can be hard for any child, but dental visits can be especially difficult for children with autism because of sensory overload. Fear not, parents can help prepare their autistic child for a visit to the dentist! In fact, your skills in planning and preparation have no doubt been sharpened to the point of perfection over the years and it is these qualities that will take the stress out of your child’s next dental visit.

Start by following these tips to ease your autistic child’s anxiety around dental visits:

  1. Research providers to find out if they have experience working with children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Spending a little time doing the research will go a long way. You want to make sure your child’s dentist has experience.
  2. Call the dentist before the appointment to discuss your child’s needs. A brief discussion with the dentist could help you both get on equal ground and decide on a mutual goal. This is also the time to schedule an appointment at a time that works best for your child – perhaps there’s a window during the day when they are more relaxed and rested.
  3. Prepare your child for the appointment with daily tooth brushing. Be a model for your child and show them how to brush and floss. An electric toothbrush is a good way to help autistic children get used to the strange sensations in their mouths.
  4. Schedule short “happy” visits to get your child used to being around a dentist office. This will make everyone in the office as well as your child feel more comfortable when dental work is needed.
  5. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with the dentist and staff. If your child has certain coping strategies, share them with your provider. There may be sensory challenges for your child – many different tastes, smells and textures. The lights and sounds may also be a hard for your child to manage. All these subtle triggers should be shared with your provider and staff.
  6. Encourage staff to communicate with your child. The dental staff can communicate each step of the exam or procedure with your child. Praising a child with a calm voice for cooperative behavior also can help the appointment go well. Remember, good dental health helps overall health.

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