Smile! Simple Stress-Free Solutions For Your Autistic Child's Dental Exam

As a parent, you most likely understand the importance of a healthy and appealing smile. Due to this importance, regular visits to the dentist are essential for you and your children. Unfortunately, regular exams, cleanings, and treatments can be problematic if your child has a medical condition.

Autism causes various behavioral, social, and emotional difficulties, which are manageable at home and school. However, these difficulties can make a traditional dental exam stressful for you, your child, and the dentist. If your child is one of the 3.5 million Americans living with autism, use these tips to ease the stress of dental care and ensure their smile is healthy and beautiful.

Shop for the Right Dentist

While a common condition, many dental professionals are not familiar with autism. Ask your child's doctor for referrals or contact your regular dentist to determine if their staff has experience with autistic children.

Communicating with your child's new dentist and office staff before the upcoming appointment is also smart. Discuss each element of your child's diagnosis, including special needs or medications. Your dentist will also benefit from having a copy of their medical records.

Prepare your Child

A dentist with experience with autism will also understand the need for a meet and greet before the first appointment. Schedule a time before the exam to bring your child into the office. This short meeting gives your child time to see the new environment and talk with the entire staff.

A pre-appointment meet and greet will ease the stress of a new experience, but you can also use the following tips to help prepare your child for the dental exam:

  • Communicate Periodically – Mark the exam on your child's calendar and talk about the appointment each day beforehand. Be open and honest about the exam and any possible treatments so your child will know what to expect without any surprises. Without these expectations, they will become surprised, scared, and worried. In most cases, these feelings will cause your child to have a tantrum or act aggressively.
  • Speak Positively – 9 to 15 percent of Americans avoid visiting the dentist due to fear or anxiety. If you are part of this percentage, put your fears aside so you can avoid negativity when talking to your autistic child. Discuss their upcoming exam without fear. Use positive words and phrases to ensure they do not develop the same fear.
  • Teach your Child – Your child will face many new people, but they will also encounter new tools and equipment during a dental exam. Each day before the appointment, spend a few minutes researching various dental tools and procedures. Show them pictures of common tools and discuss how the dentist will use them. If possible, ask the dentist to show your child the tools during the initial meet and greet.
  • Allow them to Practice - Your child will need to sit still in a reclining dental chair during their exam. Unfortunately, a new, reclining position can be uncomfortable for an autistic child. Thankfully, practicing this position each day can help your child prepare for their exam. Allow your child to sit in a recliner at home each day. Move the chair into the reclined position, making sure their feet are straight out in front of them. Have them place their hands on their stomach to rest while reclining. Ask your child to pen their mouth as wide as possible and hold in place for 5 or more minutes. Your child will feel more comfortable during the exam with daily practice.

Managing in the Office

Even after preparing and practicing, your autistic child may become overwhelmed during the actual exam. Since autism creates an imbalance in your child's senses, they may be highly sensitive to various smells, sounds, textures, and sights. During a dental exam or procedure, loud dental tools and bright lights can create an uncomfortable, stressful environment for your autistic child.

To avoid this stress and prevent tantrums, allow your child to wear a pair of sunglasses to block the light. In addition, headphones can decrease the noise of the tools.

Living with autism can be challenging for your child, but it does not have to affect their oral health. Using these tips, your autistic child will have a comfortable, successful dental exam.  If you are looking for a dental clinic near you, check out one like Village Family Dental.