Going to the dentist can be very intimidating! The tastes, the smells, the noises, opening your mouth for a ridiculous amount of time…It’s just not a very enjoyable experience. It’s even more difficult for kids – especially those with extra sensitivity or unique needs.
So how do you help your child with special needs have a good experience at the dentist? While we can’t take away all the stress, we can help you have a better dental visit.
First, your child needs to feel the dental office is a safe place. Call the office and schedule a “happy visit.” This is an opportunity for kids to walk through the office, sit in a dental chair, look in the rooms, touch the instruments and get a prize. There’s no exam, just safe exploring so everyone leaves feeling a little more comfortable. We also encourage our patients to stop by anytime just to wave and say hello. All of this helps us build a positive relationship with your child and establish trust.
Another way to help your child is to set expectations about the dental visit. Try playing dentist at home! Have them sit on the floor or in a recliner while you wear a mask and practice counting their teeth. Talk about what happens in a dental visit. Look at pictures of the office or watch videos about the dental practice online. An app like Social Story Creator and Library can be helpful for children with autism. It allows you to create a story about a dental visit with your child as the main character. It’s something they can watch over and over again.
Finally, advocate for your child. Tell us what would help them best – is it a private room? Turning off the overhead television? Holding a special toy in their hands? We will always do what we can to accommodate your child’s needs. Clear communication from parents really helps us do that.
Here in Arizona, you have lots of great options for pediatric dentists. Search around and try out offices until you find one that makes you and your child feel comfortable. It’s always best to start early. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a child visit the dentist by their first birthday. It is much easier on everyone if the child is not in pain.
Dr. Lafe Chaffee is a board certified pediatric dentist in Mesa. He specializes in creating a great dental experience for kids of all ages. You can learn more at chaffeekids.com