Visiting the Dentist with an Autistic Child

Autism Speaks

A Special Message for Autism Awareness Month

Going to the dentist can be hard for many children, but especially difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Autistic children and their families are frequently confronted with many challenges in creating and maintaining good dental health – including difficulty with changes in routine, restricted diets, sensitivity to certain sounds and lights, and limitations on manual dexterity leading to difficulty brushing. Children with autism may also have cognitive delays which also poses difficulty at the dentist office when trying to explain dental procedures to the child.

We know that every child is different. What works for one child may not work for another. Our goal is to share information so that you, as a parent or guardian, can make the decisions that are best for your child. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have additional questions about our treatments for patients with special needs.

How can parents help prepare their autistic child for a visit to the dentist?

Prepare, prepare, and prepare the child some more! Read books (with good pictures) to your child about going to the dentist and speak often about the “story” of the dentist. Bring an object of comfort for the child to hold and play with when they visit the dentist. Depending on the degree of cognitive delay, the following phrases may be used over and over again by the parent to explain the dentist to an autistic child:

  • “The dentist is going to count and clean your teeth.”
  • “The dentist uses a Spiderman/princess (or favorite cartoon character) mirror to count your teeth.”
  • “The dentist will clean your teeth with a toothbrush that spins.”
  • “After you are a good helper, the dentist will give you stickers and a balloon.”

Scheduling Considerations

When you schedule your dental visit, consider the best time for your child. If your child tends to do better in the mornings, schedule the appointment at that time. Some families with autistic children like to schedule their appointments close to the end of the day when the office is quieter and there are very few other children in the waiting area.

Your Child’s First Visit

We are here to make your child’s visit as comfortable as possible. If there is anything we can do to make the appointment easier for you and your child, just ask!

When you visit the dentist for the first time, make sure you talk to the dentist and staff about the following:

  • What the dentist can say/do to make the dental visit more comfortable for your child.
  • If your child has specific sensitivities such as to light, or noises.
  • Be sure to tell the dentist about the use of any prescription and non-prescription medications and any problematic past reactions to medications.

Consistency and Routine

Each time your child visits the office, it’s important to try and see the same doctor, with the same assistant, in the same room if at all possible. This will help the child adjust to the routine of going to the dentist.

Prevention

Prevention is key. It is important to start visiting the dentist early so that we can try to prevent tooth decay before it starts. The dentist may suggest the following: fluoride treatments, tooth sealants, and more frequent visits in order to maximize your child’s oral health.

Elizabeth Cook Miller, D.D.S., M.S. is a pediatric dentist at Atkins, Maestrello, Miller & Associates Pediatric Dentistry in Richmond, VA. She is a new mother, active runner and her favorite movie is "Finding Nemo".

One Comment

  • Sunday

    April 25, 2011, 1:18 pm

    This is excellent! Dental care for children with autism can be very hard to find, especially for those children who fall on the severe end of the autism spectrum.
    I wish there were more dentists in our area who took this level of concern and planning for children like mine.

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