"My son would rather have a mouth full of cavities - and the pain that goes with it - than go to the dentist. Are there ways to help a child with Aspergers become less fearful of dental work?"
Children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism have the same rate of dental problems as the general population. As hard as it is for most children to go to the dentist, it’s even harder to have a positive dental experience for kids on the spectrum. Even so, there are some things you can do to improve the dental experience for your child.
Below are some tips. Some will work - some won't. But everything here is worth a try:
- Visit the dentist’s office before an actual visit.
- Have the child touch the equipment.
- Explain to the child what will happen.
- Have the child bring a comfort item like a favorite toy or blanket.
- It is a good idea to have a gradual and slow exposure to the environment of the dental office so your child doesn’t get frightened by the experience.
- Make sure you tell the dentist how best to handle your child.
- Tell the dentist what works and what doesn’t work when working with your child.
- Remind the dentist that children with Aspergers are more easily overwhelmed by an overload of the senses, which can over-stimulate the child.
- Ask that the dentist keep the chaos in the office to a minimum.
- Make the child’s first visit to the dentist positive and short; have the dentist count the teeth or something else innocuous.
- Ask that the dentist approach the child as quietly and as non-threatening as possible.
- Have the dentist explain everything to the child and show the child what’s going to happen before actually doing it.
- Praise the child for acceptable behavior and have the child sit in the dental chair for awhile so he/she can become accustomed to it.
- Aspergers children want to know what’s coming next without having to be surprised, so have the dentist tell the child where and why he needs to touch the child, especially if you’re dealing with dental equipment.
- Ask that the dentist talk calmly and avoids words that have double meanings; these children take everything literally, so it’s important to say exactly what you mean.
- Ask the dentist to start the exam using only his/her fingers.
- Ask the dentist to avoid shining the light in the child's eyes.
- Using a toothbrush to examine the teeth is a good idea because it’s a safe, familiar item. The dentist can use a dental mirror after that.
- Ask if you can hold your child’s hand during the dental examination.
- Anything that is familiar will make for a good experience.
- Some Aspergers children respond well to being lightly wrapped in a small blanket during the examination. In other cases, the child will need sedation or will need to undergo general anaesthesia in order to accomplish any significant dental work. General anaesthesia is especially important in older children that don’t respond well, even to light sedation.
- You may want to preview this social story and see if it might help alleviate some anxiety in your child as it relates to dentist visits. This is a true story told by the autistic child himself.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook