We’ve been taking Squeaker to the dentist since he was three years old. At first, all they could do was get a toothbrush in there, but they wanted to make sure he did not hate the dentist on his first trip, so they did not force anything beyond talking about his teeth and brushing his teeth. He did really well, and we made an appointment for a six-month follow-up. Each time we took him, they tried a bit more with him, and last year we began using real dental tools to clean his teeth. We also found out he had cavities, though, and that was no fun at all. Getting sealant on his teeth was a no go, and we wound up having to get the cavities and the sealant done while he was sedated. Still, the dentists he has encountered have been incredibly kind and patient with him, as have the dental hygienists. Their empathy for his situation and how nervous and uncomfortable he was made a big difference in his perception of going to the dentist. We have also used consistency with brushing teeth and regular dental check-ups as a way of making the process a natural one for him. It paid off!
As he’s gotten older and more used to going to the dentist, he has allowed a little bit more each time. I was so proud to watch him get his teeth cleaned yesterday. He sat perfectly still. He allowed the x-rays, he asked for mint toothpaste even though he’s always hated mint, and he was perfectly okay with “Mr. Thirsty” helping to get the extra water and spit out of his mouth while getting his teeth cleaned. The dental hygienist, who has been with him all this time, commented on how she remembered when he wouldn’t let her use Mr. Thirsty in the past. They did not force any extra utensils on him, like those dreaded metal things they use to clean the plaque off of your teeth. To be honest, I wish they didn’t have to do that for me. I’m grateful for the clean teeth, but I hate getting my gums jabbed at while they try to get at the plaque toward the bottom of my teeth.
Anyway, the whole time we were at the dentist, his primary focus was the prize basket. He would tolerate all of the steps of the process and sit patiently just for the opportunity to claim a prize. Even though the dentist had moved to a different office, he knew exactly where to find the prize basket and went straight to it after we finished up. He earned it, but without the consistency of going to the dentist and the empathy of the people who work with him, I’m not sure any of that would matter. It’s super important that anyone who work with your child know that they have autism and understand what triggers a meltdown. If you take your child to the dentist and they are either impatient or try to force things on your child, you’re not at the right place. Our children have long memories. Once they hate going to the dentist, it’s going hard to reverse that. A lot of places have dental offices specifically designed for children where they have televisions running with the child’s choice of movie, toys for them to play with, and other things to allow for distraction during what even a lot of adults feel is an uncomfortable and scary process. Look for those places first. If they don’t exist, make sure you ask your dentist what they would do in certain scenarios before exposing your child to a dental experience that winds up being a nightmare.
[bctt tweet=”Find success when taking your #autistic child to the #dentist!” username=”@embracespectrum”]
In the end, the most important thing is to make sure your child feels comfortable going to the dentist and that your dental office feels comfortable working with your child. Never force it, but find a dentist that you can trust and make sure your child knows what he or she is going to go through before stepping through that door. Read books about going to the dentist. Come up with a social story about what to do at the dentist office. Most importantly, practice consistency in the process. Eventually, it will become easier and, like Squeaker, your child will allow more each time you go. Take it slow and easy and allow your child to take the time necessary to become comfortable with it. In the end, consistency becomes the most important thing beyond empathy when going to the dentist. Just be patient. It’s not impossible for your child to love going to the dentist or at least note hate it.
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