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For children with an autism spectrum disorder or sensory issues, a visit to the dentist can quickly become overwhelming. There are many new sights, sounds, smells, and sensations for your child to take in. However, making regular visits to the dentist is incredibly essential in building good oral health for all children.
Read on to learn dental health habits for your child with special needs, in addition to tips on preparing for regular dental visits.
Home Habits For Sensory-Seeking Children
Dentists recommend that all children should be actively supervised when brushing their teeth until the age of 7-8 years. Some children need to have parental assistance for a bit longer, all depending on the child. To help your child with special needs become more comfortable in brushing their teeth, or having them cleaned, always consider a gradual approach.
For sensory-seeking children, brushing their teeth may be surprisingly helpful in providing a calming effect. To ensure that all teeth are adequately cleaned, consider the use of a rotating or electric toothbrush that can provide additional stimulation. Sensory-seeking children also enjoy when parents sing a song while brushing, such as “This is the way we brush our teeth” that is set to the tune of “Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush” to provide a distraction while brushing.
Home Habits For Sensory-Avoiders
For children who are sensory-avoiders, the most significant reluctance may be because of their dislike for the taste of toothpaste. There is a variety of unflavored toothpaste that may be helpful for children when a flavor is a primary objection.
Your child’s brushing routine should be focused on the following steps. Work your way through each step until your child feels comfortable, and don’t be discouraged if you have days with setbacks.
- Start by providing gentle pressure to the back of their head for five seconds, repeating three times. Do this 3-5 times per day, preferably in the location where your child will be brushing their teeth.
- Choose an area for brushing that your child feels comfortable. That place is not always the bathroom, and choosing another room may be extremely beneficial.
- Once your child is comfortable with the pressure on the back of their head, you can begin to extend the routine by applying pressure to other areas of the head and face. Apply a deep sweeping motion from the ear to the chin with your hands.
- Next, work on applying pressure to the lower and upper lip and upper cheekbones with your hands.
- Repeat the pressure routine using a warm washcloth instead of your hands. Encourage your child to allow you to touch their teeth with the washcloth.
- Begin to introduce a soft-bristled toothbrush without any toothpaste once your child is comfortable with the washcloth touching their teeth.
- When ready, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. You may be the most successful with an unflavored toothpaste.
Preparing For An Upcoming Dental Exam
Planning a calm and successful dental visit for a child with autism can be extremely challenging. Preparing your child is the most essential step in having an anxiety-free trip. A gradual approach is beneficial and helpful in alleviating anxiety and promoting familiarity.
Schedule a Tour Before Your Appointment
Many offices will allow you to schedule a tour in the weeks or days ahead of your actual appointment so your child will feel more comfortable in a semi-familiar setting.
Discuss Specific Needs With Staff
Be sure to discuss your child’s individual needs, concerns, or challenges with the dentist and staff before the appointment so we can help avoid triggers.
A visual schedule, or social story, may be extremely helpful in preparing children for their visit. Practice each step until your child understands and feels comfortable with each part of the process before moving on.
With proper practice and preparation, regular dental visits for children with autism spectrum disorder, sensory issues, or general anxiety can go far better than you may initially think. Dr. Aubrey Baudean DDS welcomes families of autistic children and those with special needs. Call us today to discuss any specific concerns you may have so we can help you in making the dentist an enjoyable experience for you and your child.