Oral & Vision Health Blog

Tips for Preparing your Child with Autism for the Dentist

1 in 59 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Having a child with autism can bring a new awareness to your life. Part of this awareness is knowing what to expect during potentially challenging moments in your child’s life.

Going to the dentist can be one of those moments. However, there are ways to prepare in order to make it a successful experience. 

Here are some ways you can begin preparing your child with autism for the dentist:

Research  

When you start looking for a dentist, you should call the practice and talk with them about your child’s needs. Ask if they have experience treating children with autism and if they have procedures and policies in place to address their needs. These can include:

  • Being in the room with your child during the exam
  • Scheduling flexibility so appointments are at a time of day when you know your child is at his/her best
  • Making sure wait times are short
  • Having the same dentist and hygienist at each visit for consistency

Pay close attention to these answers. After all, the first visit will set the tone for future appointments with your child and you want it to be successful. If the answers to your questions make you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably a good idea to keep looking for another dentist.

Preparation 

A good preparatory step is to get your child used to someone else -- like you -- brushing their teeth. You can get a dental mirror and vibrating toothbrush at a local pharmacy and “practice” at home. This mimics what your child will experience at the dentist, and exposes him/her to what it will feel like.

Another very effective step is to read (or create yourself) a social story about going to the dentist. You can adapt a story and read it several times before going. This should help ease any uncertainty your child may have about what will happen at the visit. You know your child best, so make sure to focus on the things about which he/she is likely to be most concerned. This may be anything from the light shining in his/her eyes, X-rays being taken, or the noises in a typical dentist’s office.

Schedule

You could also include some motivation for good behavior to be scheduled when the appointment is over. Some dentists have a prize basket but you might want to create one of your own with some of your child’s favorite things. Or, maybe you can stop for a treat afterwards! You can get creative with this one and it can be very effective!

Taking your child with autism to the dentist presents challenges for you as a parent, for your child and for the office staff. However, you can all work together to reduce those anxieties. Researching and choosing the best dentist for your child—and preparing him/her for the visit—creates a better understanding of what to expect. This greatly increases the chances of experiencing a successful dental visit and a lifetime of healthy dental habits!

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