Visiting a dentist can be a scary event in any child's life. But the noises, bright lights and having an unfamiliar person prodding around in their mouth can be extremely terrifying to a child with special needs. While it may be tempting to skip taking your special needs child to a dentist, it's important to have their teeth looked at on a regular basis. Neglecting to do so could lead to deep cavities and other oral issues that might even cause your child to develop behavioral issues as they try to cope with the pain
Choosing a Dentist
In most cases, your best bet is to select a pediatric dentist. These specialists are not just used to working with children, their offices are also set up to be visually appealing to wee ones and most typically boast entertainment such as televisions, DVD players and game units. Of course, it would be best if you could find a pediatric dentist who has training and experience in working with special needs children, but it may not always be possible. Unfortunately, not every dentist is willing to work with children with special needs. For example, a 2005 study showed that about three-fifths of the general dentists surveyed said they would not work on autistic children.
Before settling on a dentist for your special needs child, you should ask if they:
- Have special hours for children that may be difficult to work with. Pediatric dentists often set aside a few quiet hours for children with fear issues. The quieter atmosphere is not just helpful to the patient, but also keeps a fearful child from scaring other kids if they should scream or act out during a procedure.
- Have specialized training or experience or if they have any staff members on their staff that do. Hopefully, the dentist has at least one staff member on board who has experience and/or has taken classes on working with special needs children.
- Have sedation dentistry available. In some cases, sedation dentistry may be your only option, especially if your child has a severe issue that requires extensive work.
- Might allow you to visit their office ahead of time with your child so that they can become familiar with the setting before having actual work done. This would also be an excellent time to talk about any strategies the pediatric dentist might want to employ that could help soothe your child. For example, would turning the lights down or playing a certain movie during the procedure help your child feel more comfortable?
What You Can Do
There are also a few things you can do to prepare your special needs child for their visit to a children's dentist, including:
- Having your child take good care of their teeth on a daily basis. Proper dental hygiene can help prevent tartar buildup and cavities, which will help make the visit to the dentist much less stressful.
- Reading a book to your child about going to the dentist. There are many excellent children's books about dentists, and reading or hearing about a dental visit could be very helpful in preparing your child for their first visit.
Remember, taking your special needs child to the dentist on a regular basis is important, especially if they have trouble verbalizing their problems. Oral issues could cause your child a lot of pain and could directly affect their behavior. If your child is in constant pain, for example, they could be cranky and also have trouble sleeping at night. Unfortunately, you may not even realize your child has a cavity or gum issues if you don't take them to a dentist.