Most parents know that dental visits can be a struggle for kids. However, what parents don't realize, until faced with them themselves, is the unique difficulties that can come with dental visits for children with autism. If you have a child on the autism spectrum and you're getting ready to schedule his or her first dental office visit, there are a few things that you need to know. Here are some tips to help you make the entire process easier for your child.
Start As Early As Possible
If you are reading this while your child is very young, you're getting a great early start. If your child is school age already, that's okay, too. However, you will find the entire process to be easier if you start your child's dental visits while they are younger rather than older. Starting early allows your child to grow up with this as the norm, adapting early and potentially eliminating some of the anxiety that can come with uncertainty, new situations, and the like.
Remember that kids on the autism spectrum are often highly troubled by new environments, strange smells, unusual sounds, and more. If you start the kids early in the dentist's office, that environment will become familiar at a very young age, making it much easier to deal with subsequent appointments.
Find A Sensory-Friendly Pediatric Dentist
When you are looking for a dentist for your child on the spectrum, it's often easiest to work with a dentist who is familiar with and adapted to the sensory sensitivities that come with autism. These dentists have an office environment that's designed to minimize the sensory effects of dental care.
There are a few different things that you can look for when you're trying to find a sensory-friendly dental clinic. For example, look for a clinic that offers visual distractions. Some clinics will employ the use of projectors on the ceiling to give kids something to focus on. Pair the projector with a set of headphones to listen to music, a movie, or whatever, and it helps your child block out what's going on around them.
Further, for kids on the spectrum, weighted blankets are a common option for self-soothing during times of anxiety. You can re-create this in a dentist's office by looking for a clinic with chairs that have wraps built in. Much like wings, these wraps will secure your child in the chair, providing similar comfort to a weighted blanket. This can also help to minimize anxiety.
Consider Sedation When Possible
Some dentists that specialize in working with patients on the spectrum offer varying forms of sedation dentistry. For most kids with autism, they do best with complete sedation, but that is a complex approach. Sometimes nitrous oxide can be enough to help your child relax, but in other cases, you may need to start with an anti-anxiety medication before you leave for the clinic, then follow it up with a sedative at the dentist's office.
Talk with your child's dentist about the sensory issues that he or she has because each child on the spectrum has differing needs and struggles. By working directly with the dentist, you can find the version of sedation dentistry that will be the most effective as well as the best received and safest for your child. Make sure you understand exactly what will be involved, including any dietary changes that will be needed. Some forms of sedation require that your child not eat after midnight before the procedure. The more informed you are, the more effective the treatment is likely to be.
Understanding these things are key to helping your child adapt to dental care in the most effective and least stressful manner. Kids on the spectrum deal with enough anxiety and struggle, so anywhere you can reduce that is always better.
For more information, get in touch with a local dentist, such as William E Kemper DMD.