Taking your Aspergers (high functioning autism) son or daughter to the dentist can be a difficult experience for both child and parent. Here are some helpful tips to effectively deal with dentist appointments:
1. Ask the dentist to lean the chair back before your child gets in it, because sometimes Aspergers children don’t like the feeling of being moved backwards.
2. Bring along a sibling or friend and let your Aspergers child watch as the doctor or hygienist performs the task on them first.
3. Collaboration and teamwork are essential for a successful trip to the dentist.
4. Consider some physical exercise (e.g., riding a bike) to be done before and after the visit for calming.
5. Create and read a social story about going to the dentist with your child. The social story should take the uncertainty out of what will happen at the dentist office.
6. Deep pressure can be used before and during the visit for calming.
7. Dentists should review your youngster’s medications and supplements.
8. Discover what could potentially be difficult at future visits.
9. Find some good books about practicing good oral hygiene and going to the dentist that you can read with your child.
10. For those children who grind their teeth or engage in self-injurious behaviors (e.g., picking at the gums, biting the lip), a mouth guard may be recommended.
11. Having a dental professional who can communicate with your child effectively will be very important.
12. If the noises of the office are upsetting, request to be moved to a more quiet or private area. If not available, the use of headphones or an iPod are good ways to limit noise.
13. If you have any dietary or chemical restrictions that you are following for your youngster, be sure to make your dentist aware of these before the appointment begins.
14. If your child has seizures, you will need to discuss this with your dentist. The mouth is always at risk during a seizure, because kids may chip teeth or bite their tongue or cheeks.
15. Ignoring inappropriate behaviors is something you’ll want to inform the staff about.
16. Include an incentive/motivator for when the appointment is over (e.g., stop for a treat afterward).
17. Instruct the staff that your youngster responds best to immediate praise for good behavior (e.g., “Great job keeping your mouth open” … “I like how you are holding still” … “You did great while I cleaned your back teeth”).
18. Instruct the staff to prompt the child with time durations as they work (e.g., “This will be all done when we finish counting to 10” … “I need to touch 20 teeth, so help me count them all” … “That gritty paste will only be there for 1 minute and then you can rinse and spit”).
19. Is your child familiar with daily tooth brushing? If not, consider working with an occupational therapist to teach him good oral hygiene habits.
20. Know that lighting in a dental office is often too strong for a child with Aspergers. Let him wear sunglasses and request that the staff try to keep the light out of his eyes as much as possible.
21. Let your child get familiar with the dentist office environment before the actual dental work is performed (e.g., let the child try out the chair, let the hygienist look in his mouth or count his teeth, let him listen to the sound the drill makes, etc.).
22. Let your child squeeze a therapy ball in his hands while he is in the chair (if he finds it comforting).
23. Let your child touch and examine the dentist’s tools before the dentist starts working, if possible.
24. Letting your child know ahead of time how long something is going to last can be very helpful.
25. Maintaining a calm voice may help to minimize behavior problems.
26. Make a fun game out of counting your child’s teeth before the dentist appointment.
27. Schedule a few short “trial visits” to start off with. Keep these visits very positive and short.
28. Sedation is sometimes a good idea (e.g., if the youngster has high levels of anxiety or discomfort, for uncontrolled movements like gagging, when extensive dental treatment is going to take place).
29. Share your child’s coping strategies with the dental staff before the visit.
30. Show the tool or action they are going to use before the procedure.
31. Slowly desensitize your child to the experience by talking about your personal experience with the dentist.
32. Tell your child what they are going to do before you ever get to the dentist.
33. There are many potential sensory challenges at a dentist’s office (e.g., tastes, smells, textures, sounds, lights, etc.). Knowing what areas your child tends to be sensitive will help you know what coping strategies to try.
34. To ensure that tastes are familiar and favorable, bring your child’s own toothpaste and toothbrush to the visit.
35. Try using a bean bag chair in the dentist’s chair during the exam to provide some snug comfort.
36. Use of visual routines and a timer are helpful for good daily brushing habits.
37. Use the child’s toothbrush or a plastic tooth mirror and get him comfortable with letting you put it in his mouth.
38. Vibration toys that are safe for oral use, or even electric toothbrushes, are good for getting your youngster accustomed to the strange sensations in his mouth.
39. Ask if the dentist has experience with Aspergers kids and if he/she has special procedures in order to optimize each visit. Ask about those procedures. Some procedures you might ask about are:
- having a short wait time
- having an appointment at a time of day when your child is at his best
- having the same staff at each visit for consistency
- sitting with your child in the room while doing the exam
40. Consult your child’s Occupational Therapist for additional suggestions.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook