Autism and the Dentist Visit
Autism and the dentist visit can be a traumatic experience. Your autistic child must see a dentist just like any other child. His/her teeth are like every other child’s teeth. This means s/he will eventually develop cavities; possibly need a root canal; perhaps one tooth might need to be pulled for whatever reason. Going to the dentist is definitely one of the responsibilities a parent puts in the ‘Top 10’ of unpleasant experiences. This often causes a parent to postpone this task month after month; even year after year.
What parents need to realize, particularly for those autistic children who cannot verbally communicate, is that a new behavior might be born from a toothache. Your child cannot explain to you that there is a pain in her/his mouth. In fact, your child may not understand the pain by associating it with a tooth as other children can do. As a result, your child might begin having tantrums, or some other changes in behaviors. All of these problems might easily be solved by creating a plan to follow.
Finding a dentist for your autistic child may not be an easy task. This is particularly true if you live in a rural area or away from a major city where these professionals are plentiful. You need to discuss your child’s needs with a dentist before you ever enter her/his office. I would be hesitant to take my autistic child to a dentist that does not have experience with the disability. Some dentists might welcome you, even if they do not have experience with autism, and you may feel comfortable enough to make an appointment – this, of course, is your decision.
Talk to teachers, parents, and others who can offer you names of dentists.
Arrange to take your child to visit the dentist’s office. This might need to be repeated several times (a visit to the waiting area; a visit inside to meet the doctor; a visit to meet the other people working there).
When you decide on a dentist make the first appointment short. Depending on the doctor’s recommendations have the child spend a brief time in the chair, the doctor might put on his/her mask and gloves and ask the child to open her/his mouth – this will most likely be all your child can tolerate, during this visit, without developing too much anxiety.