How to Prepare an Autistic Child for a Dental Visit
As a pediatric dental hygienist, I work with special needs patients on a daily basis. Special needs children, especially those with autism and sensory sensitivity issues can be a challenge at the dentist.
Here, we will learn how to prepare an autistic child for a dental visit and make it a smooth and positive experience.
Finding the right dental office
When deciding what dentist will best suit your child, use these helpful tips.
First, I recommend a pediatric dentist. They typically will have more experience with special needs and are better prepared to handle your child’s needs. (Read: General Dentist Vs. Pediatric Dentist)
Call around to different dental offices and ask them if they are equipped to handle special needs children. This is important so the staff is properly trained and prepared for your child’s visit.
Check to see if you and your child can tour the office. Showing them around may help to make them feel more comfortable with their surroundings on the day of their dental appointment.
Be sure to let the office know the best time for your child to come. Smaller children and those with anxiety tend to do a little better early in the morning.
Make sure that you are allowed to come in the room with your child and that their wait times are short. Long wait times may increase anxiety.
Preparing before the dental visit
Preparing your autistic child for a dental visit will work much better with a little help from you at home before the appointment. Role play with the child what will happen during their dental visit.
Start by having them to recline in a chair. Explain to your child that the dentist will need to lay them back to brush their teeth and get a good look to make sure their teeth are healthy.
Have them put their hands on their belly and lay straight while you tell them to open their mouth wide. Have them hold their mouth open for several seconds at a time. Practice this several times while looking and counting their teeth.
These steps will get them very familiar and more comfortable with their upcoming dental visit.
I highly suggest using an electric toothbrush. This will help get your child used to the feeling of the power brush that is used at the dentist.
Electric toothbrushes are also much more beneficial and are proven to clean teeth much better than a manual toothbrush. Autistic children typically have strong sensory issues and are not fond of tooth brushing.
Simulate a dental visit at home
I recently stumbled upon this Brush and Bite starter kit from Triple Bristle. I cannot say enough good things about this kit. It has everything you need to practice dental visits. The dentist that created this product put so much thought into this kit.
All of the items in this dental preparation kit are designed to help get your child used to exactly what they do at the dental office for a routine cleaning and exam. You can put on the rubber gloves and use the rubber polisher and dental mirror to play dentist with your child!
The kit comes with a booklet that gives instructions on how to best simulate a dental office visit.
This kit includes:
- Dual Purpose Handle – ergonomically designed to use as a bite block/mouth prop or toothbrush handle, should be used by both the individual or the caregiver to practice proper oral hygiene
- Triple Bristle Brush Head – place on the opposite side of the handle, create a manual version of the triple bristle toothbrush
- Medical Mask and Latex Gloves – mimics what the dentist will be wearing
- Patient Bib – all patients are typically required to wear, practice putting it on
- Dental Mirror – practice with the dentist looking in the mouth. The mirror tip can be used by parent or caregiver to scoop out the prophy paste
- Prophy Paste -use alone, mix with toothpaste, and use with the prophy angle (included) to help with sensory issues with texture
- Foam Fluoride Tray – helps practice with x-rays and treatments
- Suction Tip – help the patient get accustomed to open and closing their mouth
- Prophy Angle – use alone or with the prophy paste included
- Flosser with Refills – long handle, helps make flossing easier
- Booklet – filled with helpful instructions from the dentist
You can buy the kit here. They have offered my readers a triple bristle coupon code to discount all of their products as well. Use code TOOTHBRUSHLIFE at checkout to save 10%!
Finding the right tools for home care
Those with sensory issues tend to be particular about textures and flavors. I highly recommend this autism oral care kit from Treasure Box Smiles. It contains 3 different types of flavors and textured toothpastes. One is a strawberry banana tooth gel , one is a berry bubble toothpaste and the other is an orange foaming toothpaste. The autism kit also includes fun, fruity animal dental flossers and a three sided toothbrush designed to brush all tooth surfaces at once.
Follow these tips to help prepare an autistic child for a dental visit
Finding the right dentist and simulating dental office visits with your child can greatly increase the likelihood of a positive dental experience.
I hope you find these tips on how to prepare an autistic child for a dental visit helpful. Be sure to visit Toothbrush Life for more great oral health tips.
Kelly Hancock, RDH
Kelly is a registered dental hygienist and oral health care provider. She is passionate about oral hygiene and encourages people to achieve optimal oral health. She has been working in the dental profession for 16 years and worked in many different roles in the dental industry. Kelly is currently a pediatric dental hygienist specializing in children’s dentistry. She is committed to helping others with their oral health care issues and helping others achieve a smile they love.