Getting Your Special Needs Kid to the Dentist
Taking your child to the dentist can be a difficult task for anyone. Especially when your child experiences high anxiety or has special needs that may impair their ability to communicate. Finding a way to help them feel more comfortable, even before they need to get into the chair could be your key to a less stressful and more enjoyable dental visit. There are a few options that can work great together or just pick and choose the approaches that work best for your child.
Starting at home can be incredibly beneficial and teaching the importance of dental care early can help reduce the number of dental procedures your child might need. Show your child a toothbrush, then how to brush their teeth and role play what the dentist might say. Use this time to practice brushing their teeth so they experience the sensation of using a toothbrush. Be sure to make note of anything that is bothersome to your child and any potential triggers that might cause trouble while they’re at the dentist. Making your home practice sessions a family event, if you have multiple children, helps your young audience be more comfortable with the whole process. Letting your other children role play and practice being in the dental chair will help get them comfortable with these concepts. Role play can start with your child having the toothbrush in their hand and progress on to you brushing your child’s teeth. Patience and understanding are important, as you move at a comfortable pace for your child so they warm to the idea of being at the dentist.
An engaging activity that can be done at home multiple times before going to a dental appointment is using dental office flashcards with detailed pictures of different steps throughout a dental visit and have a few keywords like dentist, patient, hygienist on these cards that you can explain. These cards would lay out what the appointment will look like and help your child get comfortable with the idea of what they will experience at the dentist. The first picture on the flashcard would be in the dental office reception area, being greeted and then sitting down to relax. The next card would be the child going back to the exam room. Then sitting in the chair and having the dental exam. These flashcards can focus on any aspect that you feel needs to be explored within your upcoming dental visit. You might even consider depicting some kind of reward at the end that you know your child will like.
Find a dental home for your child sooner than later so they can become familiar, both with the place and the people. A familiar office with trusted staff is going to a huge advantage, helping your child to be comfortable and cooperative. When searching for your dental office, asking a few specific questions can help you narrow down your search for just the right place.
Here are some examples to get you started:
How much experience do you have working with special needs children?
My child has XYZ, do you have experience working with other patients with XYZ?
Do you have special procedures or protocols when working with patients with XYZ?
Would you allow me or my spouse to be in the room during the appointment?
We want to come by and familiarize ourselves with your office several times before any treatment. Are these orientation sessions OK with you?
Add your need specific questions based on the issues you sense your child will face when entering this new environment.
Once you’ve landed on the right office, begin to schedule “play dates” with your dentist. During this time you and your child would start by visiting and spending time in the reception area getting used to the environment. Then, once comfortable, the next step would be going into the exam room; showing your child the instruments, how they work, and meeting the clinical staff. Once they are comfortable, your next step would be a dental exam where your child is comfortable and confident while being at their new “dental home”.
The goal of each of these steps is to allow your child to feel safe within these situations. Again, it is critical that you make note of things your child finds uncomfortable as you work through this educational process. Share your notes with your dentist so they have a clear understanding of your child’s tendencies so they can tailor their approach to best serve your child. Bringing an item or two that is comforting to your child, maybe a stuffed animal or special toy, can help as well. At the end of the day every child is different so it’s up to you to observe them carefully as you go through this process, taking note of where they need help, and teaching them what they need to know to be successful when visiting their dentist. Tell us how it went and how we can make this poster better for everyone working with special needs kids.