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Four Tips To Lower The Stress Of A Dental Visit For Your Autistic Child

by Vincent Jennings

Dental care can be especially difficult for those on the autism spectrum. The unfamiliar sights, sounds, and people at the dentist's office can be a sensory nightmare, making it even more stressful. It can be tempting to avoid the stress and possible meltdowns by skipping dental care for your child. In the end, though, this only does more harm than good. Fortunately, there are some dental options that help lower the stress so that children on the spectrum can get the care they need and deserve.

#1: Look for Experience

You will want to look for pediatric dentists that have experience working with autism and special needs individuals. You can seek referrals from your pediatrician, behavioral therapist, or from local autism support groups. Once you find a dentist, request an appointment to come in and fill out the new patient paperwork without your child. This will save time on the day of the appointment and minimize the amount of stress your child experiences in the waiting room.

#2: Prepare Your Child

New places and people can be very stressful for a child with autism. Your dentist may have pictures of waiting room online or a brochure with pictures that you can take home. You can use these items to help your child become familiar with the office before you visit.

Playing with your child by acting out a dentist visit or using a visual picture schedule of the course of events during the appointment may also help your child relax once they are at the dentist office. If you work with a physical or behavioral therapist, ask what types of play and preparatory therapies they recommend for your child's specific temperament and condition.

#3: Schedule at the Best Time

Every child is different, so schedule the appointment for the time of day that will best meet your child's daily energy routines. Often, it's better to schedule early in the day on a school day, when a pediatric office is likely to be less busy. The fewer people in the waiting room, the less likely that your child will become overwhelmed.

If the office is used to working with autistic children, chances are they will have a no-wait policy in place. Just in case there is a wait, bring an item that is a known distraction for your child, such as a handheld game system or small toy.

#4: Consider "Sleep" Dentistry

For children with extreme sensitivities or sensory processing disorders, something as simple as a routine cleaning or filling can be impossible to sit through. Sleep, or sedation, dentistry uses a mild sedative along with a local anesthetic so that your child sleeps through the procedure and feels no pain. There is some preparation necessary for a sleep dentistry procedure – your child can't eat the night before or morning of the procedure, and they may not be able to take their normal medication on the day of the procedure.

Although it can be challenging, getting your child proper dental care is imperative. Regular visits while they are young can help prevent health problems, such as tooth decay and gum disease, which would only result in more stressful visits later.