Heading to the dentist can be scary. You probably remember your first time sitting in the chair and hearing the noise of various drills and tools. These fears are only heightened for children, especially those with autism.
As a dentist who’s been practicing for more than 17 years, I know how real these anxieties can be, but before you head to the dentist it’s important to find the right dentist for your child and their needs.
Asking the right questions can help you choose a dentist that is a good fit for you and your child. That way you and your child can feel more prepared and comfortable when it’s time for that first visit.
Here are some questions I have received over the years and believe are a great starting point as you begin to search for a dentist.
1. Are you comfortable working with autistic children?
This is the first question you should be asking as some dentists may not be comfortable working with an autistic child. You’ll want the dentist you choose to be confident and comfortable working with a child that has special needs.
As you begin your search, pediatric dentists will be a good start. These dentists have 2-3 years of additional schooling which makes them better equipped to tend to the specific needs of children, including children with autism.
Another benefit of a pediatric dentist is that their offices are designed for kids as their tools are smaller and less intimidating for children.
2. What experience do you have in working with children with special needs?
While speaking to a potential dentist, ask them if they’ve had experience working with special needs children. Ask what their experience was like and listen for specific examples of how they worked with someone with special needs.
Dentists with previous experience will have more knowledge overall of what it’s like accommodating for autistic children and naturally be more comfortable working with your child.
3. Can you make special accommodations for my child?
Each child is unique, and you want to make sure that your child’s needs can be met, whatever they may be. If your child has a distaste for certain flavors, ask if you can bring a toothpaste they like.
Or, if your child is sensitive to movement, ask if the chair can stay in the same position throughout the entire visit. These accommodations may seem minor but will make a big difference in assuring the comfort of your child.
4. Will I be able to accompany my child throughout their visit?
You will be able to serve as a source of familiarity and comfort during your child’s visit. Be sure to ask your prospective dentist if you will be able to remain in the same room as your child during the visit. This can help lessen any uneasy feelings and provide support for your child.
5. During future visits, will we be able to see the same staff?
Once that first visit is over, it’s time to think ahead to future visits. How did your child interact with the staff during that first visit? If you feel that it was a good fit working with the same staff during future visits can provide consistency for your child.
That way, your child will know what to expect and each time won’t be a new, unfamiliar journey. Also, you and your child will be able to begin to build a relationship with the staff. Your child will begin to trust these people the more they work with them.
Choosing a dentist for your autistic child is an important decision. You’ll want to ask the right questions and search for clear answers so you can make informed choices. Use your parental instinct and choose someone that feels right for you and your child. As a dentist, I can assure you our goal is to make a patient’s visit go smoothly as comfort and safety are always a priority.
Written by Dr. Greg Grillo (dentably.com)