According to the CDC, about 1 in 54 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder.
Autism is a developmental disorder that can differ vastly from one person to another. Those with autism can experience difficulties communicating and interacting with other people, anxiety when in unfamiliar settings, and sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises.
How to Manage Dental Anxiety with a Child on the Autism Spectrum
That’s why autistic children may struggle when going to the dentist. Keep reading to find out how you can help your child manage their dental anxiety and how you can make the experience as comfortable as possible for them.
How Common Is Dental Anxiety?
Dental anxiety is more common than you might think it is. It’s estimated that 36% of the population suffers from dental anxiety or fear, with a further 12% of people who suffer from extreme dental anxiety.
The fear can result from poor experiences or unrealistic expectations of what the dentist’s appointment will entail. That’s why dental anxiety is often higher in children and those with conditions such as autism.
- What is Autism?
- How To Find the Perfect Dentist for a Loved One with Special Needs
- Professional Family Dentist: Finding the Best Practice for Your Family
Why Are Dental Visits Difficult for Children With Autism?
Dental visits for anyone can be a stressful and unpleasant experience, especially children. However, for autistic children, this experience maybe even more stressful and uncomfortable.
No two children with autism are the same, so their experience of the visit will depend on the severity of your child’s autism. Generally speaking, most children with autism struggle with sensory issues. Sensory issues are heightened when visiting a dentist. This is due to bright lights, tools used in their mouth, and tastes of the treatments.
Another reason why autistic children might find a trip to the dentist uncomfortable is because some children with autism struggle to sit still, especially when they’re uncomfortable. However, unfortunately, dentists require patients to sit still for quite a while, depending on the procedure.
Children with autism often lack the necessary communication skills to explain how they feel. This can also make dentist visits difficult for children with autism because they’re less likely to cooperate if they don’t know what is happening or why.
How Can You Help Your Child Overcome Dental Anxiety?
Dental hygiene is essential, so regular visits to the dentist are necessary. Luckily, there are several things you can do to help your child manage their anxiety and reduce the stress of visiting a dentist.
1. Prepare for the Visit
One of the most extraordinary things you can do to help with anxiety management is to prepare before the visit. Overcoming dental anxiety may take some time, so be resourceful and find as many different sources as possible that can help your child prepare for the visit.
For example, you might choose to find some social stories or TV series that show and explain dental appointments. Ask the dentist’s office if you can come with your child before the appointment and have a tour of it, where a hygienist can show the instruments that will be used and show your child how they will be used. You could also try some role-playing at home with your child by getting them to lay still while you pretend to look in their mouth.
Also, you might choose to research local pediatric dentists in your area that specialize in services for children with disabilities. That way, you can be sure that the dentist will make the visit as comfortable as possible for your child. These dentists might also offer appointments that have fewer distractions and help soothe sensory issues.
If your child is having specific treatment, such as Invisalign, it might also help to fully understand the procedure yourself so you can fully explain to your child what will happen. The more you understand about the treatment, the better you can prepare your child, so be sure to look at this article before getting Invisalign.
2. Use a Present
Before you go to the dentist with your child, make sure you get them a present and wrap it up. This incentive can help motivate your child to go to the dentist and behave as best they can. The reward could be a new toy or even the promise of a trip to the park.
Rewards can help as a dental anxiety treatment and then can be slowly removed as your child becomes more confident and comfortable with the dental experience.
3. Focus on the Positives
No matter how good or bad the dentist visit has gone, it’s essential to focus on the positives. There will be something worth praising about the visit, so make sure you let your child know that they did well in that area and that they deserve a reward. This helps your child improve with each visit and will also reassure them.
4. Encourage Comfort
The more comfortable your child feels, the better the experience will be. That’s why it’s crucial to encourage comfort. Before the appointment, make sure the dentist knows about your child’s autism and give them tips on how to make the experience less stressful for your child.
For example, ensure the dentist and anyone else in the room introduces themselves to your child. It might also be useful for them to spend a few minutes speaking to your child before starting the dental treatment.
Another way you encourage comfort is for the dentist to explain every step of the treatment before doing anything. Ask the dentist to show your child the tools and explain how they will use them. This will help to decrease feelings of anxiety and prevent your child from feeling surprised or shocked by what happens.
5. Stop the Treatment
The dentist won’t know your child as well as you do, so if at any time you see that your child is struggling with the treatment, you can ask the dentist to stop.
It’s better to leave with a positive experience even if the dental treatment misses a few teeth from being cleaned than it is a negative experience. If the treatment is essential, you can organize a follow-up appointment as soon as possible.
Help Make Dental Experiences Less Scary
Dental anxiety is commonplace for many, especially those with autism. But there are several things you can do to encourage a more comfortable and less stressful experience for your child. Follow our tips on how you can help your child overcome their dental anxiety.
Discover more about how to help your autistic child by listening to our podcast or by reading some of our other articles.