Visiting the dentist office causes many patients some sort of anxiety. I am not sure which can cause more discomfort – the smell, the noise, or just someone putting their hand and strange equipment in your mouth. Either way, unless it is just a cleaning, it can be a bit of a discomfort for anyone.
Now, put yourself in an autistic person’s shoes with all kinds of sensory issues, sensitivity to changes in routines, impaired or non-existent communication and social skills; and the dentist visit can be horrifying. Some children have problems if they are being touched, and in the dentist office, the doctor has to be in a very close proximity as well as working in the mouth.
Amin had his second dental appointment today. My anxiety started last night when I got the reminder call, and I realized he will be in school, then he has therapy, and after the full day he has an appointment with the dentist. I still do not know what state of mind I was when I made this appointment, but I guess sleeping 3 – 4 hrs /night for years has started to have an effect on my decision-making, or I just became too relaxed.
After school and therapy, we were heading to the dentist office. I was armed with all the great reinforcers, that included noisy toys, wafers with chocolate , lollipops, juice (ironic isn’t it?). Our appointment was at 4 pm and we got there by 3:45 pm. Another setback, but not for us. I told the wonderful receptionist that we will be outside walking, playing, and doing whatever makes Amin happy. I had Safiyya with me to help (she always has such great ideas and they always work too). While I was contemplating if I need to be seen by a cardiologist for my chest pain, that I had developed since last night, Ms. Amy the receptionist came to get us, it was time to go in.
The dental Hygienist showed Amin the chair he needs to sit in, and he just jumped right on it. First victory!!! She showed him all the equipment and everything had a name.
Chase the cheetah was the one that cleanses the teeth, Mrs. Water and Mrs. Air blow either or both into the mouth, and Mr. Thirsty is sucking the water out. I had a hard time to keep up with the names, but Amin and Safiyya got very comfortable with them right away. Now it took some persuading to make Amin open his mouth, but once he was able to hold the equipment, he was happy to comply with the request. When his teeth were cleaned and polished, the doctor came to see him. He was just as patient as his assistant, (they must be from another planet, almost unreal how kind and resourceful they are). He showed Amin the mirror, and talked to him while examining his teeth. Second victory!!!
After the verdict of “NO CAVITY”, Amin felt pretty comfortable watching a cartoon, touching all the equipment, and going up and down on the chair. He was all smiles, and so was I. Once they painted his teeth with fluoride, I declared the THIRD VICTORY for the day. The thirty minute visit was a very pleasant one.
So what did I learn from this experience?
It is important to make an appointment in a time when the child is not too tired or hungry.
Find a place where they have experience treating autistic children and are able to do all the dental care in the same facility.
Try to go when the office is least crowded.
Try to introduce a social story that involves a dentist visit.
Take favorite and comfort items.
Speak with the staff about your child’s special needs, behavior problems, other medical history.
Speak with the staff about your child’s dental hygiene.
I started teaching my kids oral hygiene when they were only babies, and both of my children love brushing their teeth. I pay special attention to Amin, because I really do not want him to have cavities. If he needs any filling that would probably have to be performed under anesthesia, and I want to avoid that.
Children with developmental disabilities are at high risk of gum diseases and other dental problems. It is very important to teach and maintain dental hygiene for autistic children.
I feel very fortunate to have such a great facility here in central Florida.Threshold Family Dental Clinic is a state of the art facility “equipped” with wonderful and caring staff. This facility is part of a Family Medical clinic, a residential facility for autistic persons, and an ABA school for autistic children. This is a one stop care center for a family and their special children. I feel very comfortable to take my children there for treatments.
Please take care of your kids dental needs because that is just as important as other health issues.