Visiting the dentist can be a challenging experience for any child, but it can be especially challenging for children with special needs. Here are some ways that a parent of a child with special needs can prepare for a dentist visit to make it as smooth and comfortable as possible:
Choose the right dentist: Look for a dentist who has experience working with children with special needs. Pediatric dentists are trained extensively in the treatment of children with special care needs. They will be more likely to have the right language skills, equipment, and techniques to accommodate your child's needs.
Prepare your child in advance: Let your child know what to expect at the dentist visit. You can use social stories or visual aids to help them understand what will happen during the visit. Talk about the importance of dental hygiene and how visiting the dentist will help keep their teeth healthy. Avoid scary terminology - using friendly sensory descriptions goes a long way (see examples at the end of this post). And why worry about things that aren't happening? Unnecessary fears increase the fight or flight response so keep your explanations very simple or encourage your child to ask the dental team about each step as it happens.
Schedule the appointment at the right time: Choose a time of day when your child is most alert and rested. Most children do best in the morning when they haven't been worn out by a long school day and often the dentist will have more time and ability to build trust with your child than in those busy, louder, after school hours.
Bring a comfort item: Bring a comfort item from home, such as a favorite toy or blanket, or using noise-canceling headphones to help your child feel more secure and relaxed during the visit.
Communicate with the dentist: Let the dentist know about your child's special needs and any accommodations they may need. This can include asking for a weighted blanket, wearing sunglasses, or asking for specific language skills like quiet voices, using imagination, or singing. If your child has a longer list of medical concerns, inform the team in advance so they can reach out to your medical team. Some health conditions require preparation for routine visits so a little prep work can help with an efficient visit.
Consider sedation: If your child has severe anxiety or difficulty sitting still, you may want to consider sedation. This can help them feel more relaxed and comfortable during the visit and can create for a safer treatment environment.
Practice good dental hygiene at home: Regular brushing and flossing can help reduce the need for invasive dental procedures, which can be more challenging for children with special needs. Practicing using a mouth mirror at home can also help your child learn to "count their teeth" while staying open.
Ask your occupational therapist to work on oral sensory aversions. Your therapist is a great resource to prepare for dental visits from practicing for x-rays to brushing and flossing.
Try to relax! All this preparation and mental energy can burn you out as a parent. A light, easy-going attitude can go a long way to keep your child feeling confident. Doing some breathing exercises, mindful meditation, or setting an intention for supporting your child for the visit can go a long way. And if things don't go perfect? It's okay, your dental team is there to support your family.
Overall, the key to a successful dentist visit for a child with special needs is preparation and communication. By working closely with your dentist and preparing your child in advance, you can help ensure a positive and stress-free experience.
Language Tips: Try these words best results
"Count your teeth" instead of "Examination"
"Soft tooth towel" instead of "cotton gauze"
"Wash your teeth" instead of "Prophylaxis"
"Tooth pictures" instead of "x-rays"
"Straw" instead of "Suction"