Children are not alone in their fear of dentists. An estimated 36 percent of people have dentist-related anxiety. If you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the fluorescent lights, loud noises, and strange smells and tastes of a dental office can quickly lead to sensory overload and anxiety. Bad experiences at the dentist office, leading to fewer or lighter treatments, can put children with ASD at higher risk for oral diseases. If you are the parent or caretaker of a child with ASD, a trip to the dentist may seem like an insurmountable obstacle, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are seeking a pediatric dentist in Hurst, be sure to read the entire article for step-by-step tips to help you find the right dentist for your child.
To alleviate any fears your child may have, there is plenty you can do at home before ever walking into the office.
Use tools such as stories and pictures to explain the upcoming visit. Do role play by having your child sit in the “dentist’s chair” and look at his or her teeth in a mirror. Children can even practice being the dentist, giving them a sense of control.
Brainstorm a list of things that could make your child more comfortable during the visit. Is there a favorite toy your child could bring? Can the X-Ray blanket do double-duty as a weighted blanket?
Finally, create a strong rewards system specifically for the upcoming visit. Most importantly, keep it positive and fun.
Finding a Pediatric Dentist in Hurst
While you can do creative prep work with your child prior to the first visit, that is only half the battle. When doing your preliminary research, it is critical to know what to look for and what to ask.
While there are many dentists to choose from in Hurst, not all dentists are equal when it comes to working with children with special needs.
Here are the qualities to look for when searching for an autism-friendly dentist. If you follow the steps below, you’ll greatly increase the likelihood of a positive, successful experience.
1. Pediatric Specialists
Pediatric dentists specialize in working with children. This means they have at least two additional years of training.
Choosing a dentist who specializes in working with children is as important as choosing a pediatrician over a general practitioner.
2. Experience with Special Needs Children
Be sure they list their ability to work with special needs children on their website.
Not every dentist feels comfortable working with children, especially those on the spectrum. In fact, 60 percent of general dentists surveyed did not feel prepared to work with kids with special needs.
Don’t stop there, though. After you’ve found a pediatric dentist who works with children with special needs, continue your research.
3. Resourceful and Helpful Staff
Call each office and ask some preliminary questions, such as scheduling options. Also ask for resources to help prepare your child for the visit, such as a book about visiting the dentist.
Are they willing to do initial, “prep” visits with your child? Can they schedule appointments when it’s less crowded?
If the staff come up short in either of these areas, you might want to move on.
4. Walk the Talk
A practice may say they work with children who have special needs but we recommend scheduling time to visit the office to see how they actually operate. You can glean plenty of information in a matter of seconds.
You know your child better than anyone, so when you step into the waiting room, assess whether or not the environment is one that will make your child comfortable.
Look for offices with soft lighting and soothing music as opposed to fluorescent lighting, a blaring TV, and noisy toys.
Look for other qualities that may cause stress for your child. Is the waiting room small and crowded? Do you notice weird or strong scents?
How about the staff? Are they friendly and engaging?
Use this visit as an opportunity to find out what’s not listed on their website. Everything speaks.
5. Visiting the Dentist: The Initial Visit
The next step is to arrange a low-key visit for your child. The goal isn’t to have extensive dental work done. Instead, focus on having a positive first experience that allows your child to try it out.
During this visit, your child should have the opportunity to meet with staff, including the dentist.
The office should also allow the child to get a taste of the upcoming “big appointment.” This can include things like sitting in the examination chair and seeing, touching, smelling, hearing and even tasting the different tools and products that will be used.
That way, when your child returns for dental work, the scene is more familiar and predictable.
6. Appropriate Communication Style
Children on the spectrum may exhibit behaviors when anxious and often have difficulty communicating their needs verbally.
Do the staff seem positive, friendly, relaxed, and comfortable when speaking with your child? Do they speak with the appropriate volume, speed, and tone?
People who are too loud or speak too quickly can cause sensory overload in a child on the spectrum. This is also a sign they lack experience working with special needs children.
Check that the staff understands basic behavior management. This includes things such as praising along the way, explaining what is going to happen before each procedure, and allowing the child to explore in a sensory way.
In other words, do they use the tell-show-do method? While you can’t expect them to be behavioral therapists, they should have a basic knowledge of how to create a calm environment for special needs children.
7. Consider Reputation
Finally, what are other parents saying about this practice? Compare that to your own experience to see if that matches. Ask around and read reviews.
Scheduling Your Initial Visit
If you’ve seen one child on the spectrum, you’ve seen one child on the spectrum. In other words, symptoms can vary greatly from child to child.
When making that first appointment with a pediatric dentist in Hurst or elsewhere, make sure the staff understands what fears and triggers your child has and how to make your child comfortable.
Most importantly, make sure you are comfortable. Children are perceptive, and if you are nervous, most likely your child will be as well.
Ask as many questions as you need to feel at ease with your decision. We love helping, so feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have.