Dental Care For ASD: Helping Your Autistic Child Overcome Their Fear Of The Dentist

Health & Medical Articles

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have the same dental needs as children who don't have the disorder. Many children on the autistic spectrum also have sensory processing issues, which can make everyday activities and events seem overwhelming. Visiting the dentist may be only a mildly stressful incident for you, but for your ASD child, it could be completely overwhelming, inducing a meltdown and making it nearly impossible for your child to get the dental care they need. Here are some ways you can help your ASD child overcome their fear of visiting the dentist, so they'll have healthy teeth worth smiling about.

Make sure the dentist is aware that your child has autism. 

Autism doesn't necessarily have obvious signs or symptoms, especially if your child has high functioning autism. A dentist can easily misinterpret an autistic child's meltdown for a temper tantrum, and they may be completely unaware of any sensory issues your child may have that would make them anxious about seeing the dentist. If your child's dentist is aware of their autism, and their fears or concerns, they can adjust their treatment plans accordingly to help put your child at ease.

Make the first visit short and simple.

If possible, make the first visit that your child has with the dentist a short one. Let them get used to sitting in the chair under the light, and have the dentist do something simple like count your child's teeth. Keep the chaos and activity in the room to a minimum, so that your child isn't overwhelmed. It might help to bring a favorite toy or object to help calm your child, and make sure that the dentist explains every step of the visit before it actually occurs. Many ASD children have difficulties handling surprises, and this can help put your child at ease.

Consider using soothing methods if treatment is needed.

If your ASD child has a cavity or other problem that requires treatment, you can explain the process until you're blue in the face, and it still may not be enough to keep them calm in the dentist's chair. You may want to consider using a soothing method that your child responds well to, such as a compression blanket that provides deep pressure, before and during the visit. If your child is sensitive to the light, let them wear sunglasses. Lavender oil has been shown to have calming qualities, and it can be used safely to help keep your child calm during the dental treatment.

Whichever method you use, just be sure that it is chosen by your child. Never force your ASD child into treatment by restraining them. This can be traumatic and counterproductive, because they'll only fear the dentist even more. Instead, if your child can't be calmed, ask your child's dentist about using sedation to keep your child calm during the process.

Make the experience a fun one.

It can be difficult for any child to see a dental visit as fun, and it can be downright terrifying for children with ASD, but it doesn't have to be. Try to make the visit as fun and stress-free as possible. 

  • Reward your child for staying calm at the dentist by giving them a small treat immediately after the visit.
  • Praise them frequently for keeping calm throughout the visit.
  • Talk to your child's dentist about letting them "try" some of the tools themselves. They may feel more relaxed knowing that they can try the water or vacuum by themselves before the dentist takes over. 

To help your ASD child overcome their fear of dental visits, use patience, planning and communication with the dentist to make the experience a smooth one. Encourage good oral hygiene habits between visits, and your child could benefit from shorter visits that are less stressful for everyone.

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