Guest Post from Dr. Greg Grillo (dentably.com)
You probably remember the nerves you felt at your first dental appointment. It can be an overwhelming place for anybody, but going to the dentist for a patient with autism can make it much more difficult. I have been practicing family dentistry for 17 years which is why I want to help give you an idea of what it will be like taking your child to the dentist. While it may be difficult, knowing what to expect can help you and your child prepare to have a positive experience at the dentist.
1. New people
One of the biggest things to expect when going to the dentist for the first time is meeting heaps of new people. There is a whole dental clinic of staff members and dentists that you will quickly be getting to know. You and your child have an amazing opportunity to establish a positive relationship between you guys and the staff at the dental office. Most dental clinics are filled with friendly staff and since they will be working closely with your child, think of them as your team members that you want to have a positive relationship with.
If your child is feeling especially nervous towards visiting the dentist, try setting up a meeting ahead of time for them to visit the dental office. This will give them the chance to meet the office and staff before any work is done. They can also see what the office looks like which will make it more familiar when your child comes back for their appointment.
The staff members at your dental office are going to work to make your child's experience as comfortable as they can. Let them know ahead of time any special accommodations you'd like to to be made. These can include things such as specific toothpaste flavors or reducing waiting room time. Think of you, your child, and your dentist as a team. Collaboration and teamwork are essential in assuring the success of your child's dental visit.
As mentioned before, going to the dentist can cause anxious feelings in anyone and your child may be feeling anxious about visiting the dentist, especially if it's their first time. In children with autism, the many sensory elements of the dental office can be overwhelming for them. This is expected, so don't worry. There are many ways to work to overcome these nerves your child may be feeling and avoid other issues.
A couple of things that you can do to work on these anxieties are working through some of the sensory elements by role-playing dental visits at home. Have your child practice laying down flat with their hands on their stomach. Have them try opening their mouth wide for a few minutes at a time. If you're feeling up to it, you can even practice brushing with an electric toothbrush to get them used to the feeling of the vibrations. Another great way to work through nerves is by telling stories or watching videos about dental checkups. This can help visualize for your child what dental appointments are like. There are many ways to work through the nervousness surrounded with going to the dentist so work with your child to find what works best for them. You want it to be a positive experience for your child, and your dentist does too.
3. Future Appointments
After your child's initial dental visit, you can expect to prepare for future visits. It's recommended that your child visits a dentist once every six months. While the first visit may be the most difficult, as you start to visit the dentist more often and figure out what works for you and your child, the easier it will become. Find out what went well in their first visit and what can be improved upon. It's going to be trial and error but enjoy the learning process.
One thing that will help make visiting the dentist go more smoothly is if your child can work with the same staff each time. As mentioned before, establishing that relationship with office and staff members will be beneficial in the long run. Your child will be more willing to visit the dentist if they can be around people they are familiar with. It will help ease any anxieties your child may have previously had and make fore great and positive dental visits.
Good dental care is important for people of any age. It's important that a child with autism becomes familiar with dental hygiene at an early age because it's something that will be with them their entire life. Embrace meeting new people and working through any nerves. It's all a learning process and it can be a special experience for you and your child.