But don’t worry, a trip to the dentist doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Pediatric dentists have special training and kid-friendly offices that can make the dental experience fun for children. If you have an autistic child, there are several things you should consider when choosing a pediatric dentist.
Why choose a Pediatric Dentist?
It’s important to take your child to the dentist on a regular basis. Good oral hygiene is essential to a healthy lifestyle because you don’t want tooth decay and pain to hold them back.
Many parents ask why they should take their child to a pediatric dentist over a regular dentist, and there are several benefits:
- Pediatric dentists receive two to three additional years of training after dental school. This additional training helps them understand the unique needs and best methods to treat young children, including children with autism.
- The dental room is designed to be kid friendly, and they typically use smaller and “less scary” dental tools to help children feel more comfortable.
- Their offices are typically brightly decorated and stocked with the best toys and games, giving children something to look forward to.
- They communicate throughout the appointment to keep children informed and engaged.
As you can see, there are many great reasons to look for a pediatric dentist for your child. But how do you find the right one for your autistic child?
Step 1: Ask for references
If you know other parents with autistic children, ask them about their dental experiences. Have they had good or bad ones, and if good, where did they go? What made it a great experience? If you find some great recommendations, then that is a great place to start!
If you’re struggling to find any good references, you can always search online. Many modern dentists will have a review page on their website, and checking these reviews and testimonials can also give you a good indication about the dentist’s ability to treat the special needs of children.
Step 2: Talk to your potential pediatric dentist
When looking for a pediatric dentist, call the office and discuss your son or daughter’s needs. Speaking with the dentist and learning as much as you can will make you more comfortable about your decision. Some useful questions to ask include:
- Do they have experience with children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
- Do they have special procedures in order to optimize each visit for your child?
- Can you accompany your child in the room during the dental exam?
- Can you schedule your appointment at a time of day when your son or daughter is at his or her best?
- Can you see the same staff at every visit for consistency?
You know your child and what they will be comfortable with, so if you’re not happy with the answers to your questions, consider another dentist. Be aware that some dentists may not be willing to treat your child because they’re unsure how to make them comfortable. If this is the case, they might be able to refer you to a dentist who is great with autistic children.
Step 3: Discuss sensory issues
Children with autism often struggle with certain sensory issues. It’s important to discuss these with your pediatric dentist and look for strategies to deal with them. For instance, if your child doesn’t like the sensation of being moved backwards, you should recommend the dental chair starts in the leaned back position before they arrive. If they’re sensitive to light, let them wear sunglasses as the dental chair can be quite bright.
Whatever your child’s unique needs are, you should discuss them with your dentist. If you’ve found a good pediatric dentist, they will have coping strategies for reducing sensory issues and can help you think through potential issues and solutions.
Step 4: Schedule some easy visits
You don’t want your child to receive extensive dental work on their first visit. Instead, schedule some easy and quick visits to the dentist first. This will help you and your child get to know your pediatric dentist and build trust. It will help your child get used to the dentist and the things that will happen in the office.
If those early visits don’t go well, you might need to consider choosing another pediatric dentist.
Step 5: Look for communication skills
Pediatric dentists are great at communicating with children. We tend to follow the “tell, show, do” method.
- First, we tell your child what we are going to do.
- Next, we show the tool or action we are going to use and might even let them touch the tool.
- Last, we actually do the action we’ve discussed.
Communicating in this way helps eliminate uncertainty for your child and puts them more at ease. If your child struggles with communication, we might ask the parent to help communicate, or allow them to watch their brother or sister receive the same treatment so they get an idea of what is about to happen.
Hopefully those steps will help you choose a pediatric dentist for your autistic child. It’s also important to explore other topics that may be relevant to your child:
- Does your child struggle with seizures? If so, your dentist should be aware for treatment, and can also discuss tactics for protecting your child’s teeth during seizures.
- Should some form of sedation be considered? It can help relax your child without causing them to go to sleep.
- Can your pediatric dentist help with good oral hygiene habits? Sometimes getting your autistic child to brush their teeth can be a real challenge. A good pediatric dentist can provide strategies for improvement.