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How to prepare for your autistic child’s dentist visit

Dentist for autistic child: Preparing for a successful visit

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 5 Minute Read

Ben Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of Sensory Health

Reviewed by:

Ben Hudson, CEO and Co-Founder of Sensory Health

Highlights

  • Find a dentist who has experience with kids who have special needs, and schedule your child’s appointment at the quietest part of the day.
  • Use visual aids and practice visits so your child knows what to expect.
  • Bring items to fulfill sensory needs (like sunglasses for bright lights and fidgets/toys to play with) so your child feels more comfortable.
  • Take it easy before and after the visit, and communicate with your child about their concerns and fears using simple language and visuals.

Dentists for autistic children can be hard to find, and getting your child in and out of the visit, can seem like an impossible task. Let’s talk about how you can make your child’s next dentist appointment a smiling success.

 

How to prepare the dentist for your child’s appointment

You’ll work with your kiddo to get them prepped for their appointment, but what about their dentist? Here’s how you can work with your child’s dental provider to ensure a great visit.

 

  • Ask potential providers if they have experience with autistic kids. Pediatric dentists usually have more experience with special needs kids than general dentists. There are also dentists who specialize in special needs dentistry. They get a license and training from the Special Care Dentistry Association.
  • Schedule an “orientation” appointment. This allows your child to meet staff and get used to the dentist’s office without having anything done to their teeth. The appointment can include sitting in the chair (or just going into the exam room), getting familiar with the dentist’s tools, and getting to know the dentist and staff. Overall it should be a positive and fun experience with no pressure or demands.
  • Ask staff to schedule your child’s appointment at the calmest, quietest part of the day. This can help prevent your child from becoming overwhelmed.
  • Explain your child’s specific sensitivities and needs. Share ways your child’s dentist can help them feel more comfortable. For example, “Meredith loves talking about cars, you can ask her questions about cars if she gets uncomfortable. She is very sensitive to light, so I will be bringing her a pair of sunglasses. But if you could also dim the lights, that would be great.”
  • Ask your child’s dentist about sealants and fluoride. These can help protect your child’s teeth to ensure fewer dental appointments.
  • Request a private exam room. Having a quiet, private space may help your child relax versus an open/shared space.
  • Fill out paperwork beforehand. This is more for your benefit than the dentist’s, but if you can, fill out paperwork in advance so you don’t have to worry about it the day of the appointment. Many dental offices allow you to complete intake forms online, which can save you time and stress, so you can focus on your kiddo. (Psst. You may also be able to wait in the car until your child’s exam room is ready and avoid the waiting room.)
  • Be clear with expectations. Work with your child’s dentist to establish a plan for the appointment. It’s important that providers stick to that plan. You want to avoid the stress of surprises and last minute changes. For example, a practice appointment should just be practice.

 

How to prepare your child for a dentist appointment

Let's get straight to the expert and parent-approved tips:

 

  • Use visual aids. You can use picture schedules, videos, social stories, and other visual aids to show your child what to expect. The All Smiles Shine app can help your child prep for a dentist visit. My son loves this video which walks you through a child’s dentist appointment from beginning to end. You may also be able to find books or episodes of your child’s favorite TV shows that feature characters going to the dentist. If your child can see Mickey Mouse or Paw Patrol being brave at the dentist, maybe they will feel brave too! You can even use a video of your child’s previous dentist’s visit to help them prepare.
  • Take your child for a practice visit. This can be the same as the orientation visit, or it can be a “dry run” of an appointment where the dentist doesn’t actually work on your child’s teeth yet. But your child can go through all the steps of checking in, sitting in the chair, chatting with the dentist, and getting familiar with the process. Practice/orientation visits should take place a few days or weeks before your child’s actual appointment.
  • Bring items to fulfill sensory needs. Bringing your child’s favorite fidgets and toys so they can play during the appointment will be helpful. You may also want to bring a pair of sunglasses and noise-canceling headphones (or earplugs) if your child would like to use them. If you know your child will have sensitivity to something at the dentist’s office, think of ways to minimize that sensory input.
  • Reduce unnecessary stress before and after. Since going to the dentist will take a lot of energy for both of you, take it easy both before and after the visit. Reduce demands by wearing comfortable clothes, getting lots of rest, eliminating unnecessary activities (like grocery shopping — order for pick up!), and doing the things that relax your child. Your child will be able to regulate better when every day stressors are kept at a minimum.
  • Communicate with your child. Be open with your child about their concerns and fears. Explain the process to them. If your child is nonverbal, remember that not speaking does not mean your child can’t understand. You can use simple language to keep your child involved in what’s going on. With my son, I explained that his teeth were hurting and the dentist would make his teeth better, then I showed him the video linked above, and he was ready to go!
  • Practice at home. You can purchase disposable dental mirrors online or at the pharmacy and practice looking at your child’s teeth at home. This can spark their curiosity about their teeth and get them used to the sensation of someone working on their teeth. Let them hold the mirror and inspect their teeth. You can even make it a learning experience by incorporating a tooth-themed episode of their favorite show. Our favorite is Sid the Science Kid.

 

Conclusion

Establishing a comfortable and trusting relationship with your child’s dentist is important for their overall health. You can make your child’s dentist appointments easier by scheduling them at the quietest part of the day, bringing along fidgets or other comfort items, showing your child videos and visual aids, and completing a practice appointment first. While the dentistry industry is making some efforts to accommodate people with special needs, it’s still hard to find quality dental care. Autistic kids may be prone to more dental issues, so prevention is important.