Going to the dentist can be an overwhelming experience for special needs children, especially those with sensory issues. When a child displays symptoms of a sensory processing disorder, bright lights, loud noises, tastes and smells can cause feelings of anxiety at the dentist.
I have been practicing family dentistry for 17 years and have discovered ways parents and children can overcome their sensory issues surrounding a dental visit. Dental care is important, so having a child become comfortable when visiting the dentist is vital to their health and well-being.
#1: Preparing at Home
Finding ways at home to prepare for a child’s dental appointment is an excellent start for overcoming any sensory issues they may experience. A parent can role-play a dentist appointment, read storybooks, and watch videos about dental checkups so their child can see what a dental visit will be like.
Role-playing a dental appointment is a great way to overcome sensory issues because it allows a child to practice laying down with their feet out, keeping their hands on their stomach, and opening their mouth wide. This gets them familiar with the movements and feelings that come with visiting the dentist.
Storybooks and videos can help by creating a visual image of the dentist. Visuals are fantastic because they allow a child to make the connection between the dentist and the videos they watch or stories they read.
#2: Working With Office and Staff Members
As a dentist, it’s always my goal to make sure my patients are as comfortable as possible. Dental staff members will usually be more than willing to work with a parent and their special needs child on overcoming their sensual issues.
#3: Visiting the Office Beforehand
One great thing that many dental offices offer are desensitization appointments. These appointments are scheduled for before the actual dental checkup and allow a parent and child to see the office and meet the staff. This is of particular value for a special needs child, as familiarity goes a long way toward comfort.
#4: Special Accommodations
Parents can also work with staff members to coordinate any special accommodations their child may need. For example, if there is a flavor of toothpaste that their child favors, it can be arranged to have that flavor ready and waiting on the day of the child’s visit.
#5: Finding Distractions
Distractions are an important part of overcoming the sensory issues a special needs child may face at the dentist. They provide the child with something new to focus on instead of worrying about what is happening inside their mouth. If a child has a favorite toy or “fidget item”, they should bring this to the appointment as well.
Another great distraction is a movie or TV show that a child enjoys. Many dental offices have a screen available, but if not, parents can bring an iPad or portable DVD player. During their appointment, the child can focus on what is on the screen rather than the noises and feelings surrounding their mouth.
When working towards overcoming a child’s sensory issues at the dentist, there are a number of things a parent can do, both before and during the appointment, to help ensure a positive experience. And as a dentist, I’ve found the level of parent preparation to directly correlate with the level of anxiety (or lack thereof!) of my special needs child patients.
About the writer: Dr. Greg Grillo (dentably.com)
I have been practicing family dentistry for 17 years and have discovered ways parents and children can overcome their sensory issues surrounding a dental visit. Dental care is important, so having a child become comfortable when visiting the dentist is vital to their health and well-being. Visit dentably.com for more information.