A trip to the dentist can be a frustrating experience. However, if your child has special needs, whether they are physical, developmental, cognitive, sensory, behavioural, and/or emotional, it can be even more difficult. Every child has a right to proper, regular dental care. In some cases, if you have found the experience too overwhelming for you or your child, it can be difficult to continue providing proper oral health care for them.
In the case of traumatic experiences, it’s important to discuss the challenges with your dentist and determine if they have the capacity to manage the special requirements and considerations for your child. With the proper approach, your child can learn a trip to the dentist is nothing to fear so they can enjoy good oral health for life.
A Modified Approach To Dental Care
One of the best ways to develop a healthy relationship between your child and your dentist is to ensure their clinic takes a modified approach to dental care. This is especially important for kids with developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, who find dental visits too overwhelming. The environment can be overstimulating with sights, sounds and smells difficult for sensory processing. Once in the room with the dentist, the issues intensify with bright lights, face masks and strangers. One option for special needs children is to provide general anesthesia.
However, even this is difficult and presents risks not commonly faced for simple teeth cleaning. A dentist with experience treating special needs kids can offer a modified approach to make visits easier. A slow approach designed to acclimatize your child to the dental clinic helps desensitize all the sensory stimulants. It can take several appointments to get to the point where your child will trust the dentist and staff, but it is worth the effort.
How To Acclimatize Your Child
Short appointments that gradually intensify in length and level of interaction help a child become accustomed to the dental clinic. In most cases, the first appointment might simply be a visit to the waiting room with a greeting by staff or just the dentist. With each appointment, our team will test the waters to see how much interaction your child allows. Sometimes it is a simple hello, other times it can include a handshake.
Some children will feel safe entering the treatment room with the dentist, while others might take several visits simply visiting in the waiting room. Each appointment is designed to ease your child into feeling comfortable with the visits, eventually leading to treatment. Some examples of visits might include:
- An introduction to the reception area and staff
- A visit to the dental treatment area to sit in the chair
- A “teeth count” to get your child used to having their mouth and teeth touched
- Trying on safety goggles or bibs
- Singing songs with the dentist or hygienist
Each step is based on your child’s comfort level.
Visit At Less Busy Times
A good starting strategy is to make sure you are visiting during downtimes at the clinic. Visits on weekends tend to be terribly busy while mid-week, late morning or early afternoon appointments are not as popular. Using baby steps, appointments can vary in location whether it is the waiting room or a special room with fewer lights and equipment.
Voice Your Concerns
Any child can have issues with dental visits. We encourage parents to discuss their concerns upfront and offer advice to help us make their children as comfortable as possible. There are issues that can range from smells to sudden noises, being touched in a certain way or making eye contact. The more information you can provide about your child, the better able we are to prepare our team for their visit. Just as we take a medical history for each patient we see, we also take every aspect of their care into consideration.
Once we understand concerns, we can reduce triggers more likely to create issues. Keep in mind we discuss this with all parents, as many children can have behaviours that put them or even staff at risk. A good example is children that tend to move fast and can be into our equipment or dangerous drawers faster than a blink of an eye. The more we know about your child, their personality, their fears, and potential behavioural challenges, the easier it will be to create a safe and welcoming environment for their visit.
Our team will take note of any progress or regressions at each appointment. This is the best way to avoid trying to provide treatment before they are ready, or missing opportunities to provide care. Specific triggers will be addressed for each appointment to ensure we don’t make changes that will interfere with their progress.
Offering Specialized Care
Children with physical or emotional barriers often react positively to a gradual introduction to the dentist. However, in many cases children won’t respond as well to the techniques used. In these cases, the best course of action is to consider using safe sedation and anesthesia. We have in-depth training in the use of nitrous oxide, oral conscious sedation medications, and general anesthesia to provide alternative treatment options for our special needs patients.
Sleep dentistry provides a calming appointment where your child will be perfectly relaxed and will not have any memory of their treatment. We can recommend the treatment best suited to their needs allowing them to receive the regular checkups required to avoid more intense, longer appointments for restorative treatments. Providing fewer treatments by taking a proactive approach is always the best way to help your child maintain oral health.
At-Home Oral Care
Because professional cleanings and checkups are challenging, it’s very important you practice excellent oral care with special needs children at home. Some tips to make special needs children’s oral care easier include:
- Brush every day: If you feel your child is not brushing their teeth effectively, it is best to help by taking on the job yourself. However, if you start working with them from a very young age, they can become accustomed to it and become highly effective in their brushing technique. In severe cases, you might need to modify the toothbrush to allow them to brush properly.
- Floss regularly: Flossing is more difficult than brushing, so again this might be something you have to do for your child. A good tip is to try different types of floss such as floss holders or picks.