April is well-known for hi jinks and tricks on the very first day, the beautiful blossoms on trees signifying the end of the cold winter months, and dewy cool mornings, however, did you also know that April is also the national awareness month for Autism Acceptance?

What is Autism?

Autism, also referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ‘refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication’, according to the Autism Speaks foundation.

It’s important to note that not all children or adults with autism present the same behaviors. Nevertheless, children with autism regardless of where on the spectrum they fall can struggle with tasks that require socialization, strange sounds, or new environments. A trip to the dentist for any child can come with challenges. In fact, in December we wrote an article specifically addressing the unfortunate truth that many children experience nervousness or anxiety about a trip to the dentist. Therefore, it is completely understandable that a child with autism may experience anxiety or fear of a trip to the dentist as well.

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, we’re writing this article for the parents of children on the Autism Spectrum. We’ve written before about the added value of attending a pediatric dentist for all your children instead of a general dentist. Nevertheless, this article specifically addresses the autistic community and the important reasons why a pediatric dentist is the best option for dental care for your autistic child or teen.

Reasons Why You Should Take Your Autistic Child to a Pediatric Dentist

1. Pediatric dentists complete additional training specific to child development, child psychology, children with special needs, and specialized tools and techniques that better serve children. We aren’t suggesting our dentists did a special weekend seminar. In fact, pediatric dentists complete an additional two, sometimes three years of training compared to general dentists.

This additional training means that you can be confident of a few specific and vital points:

  • We are dedicated to a positive dental office experience for all children.

  • When selecting our chosen career paths, we chose to work, specifically, with children.

  • We care about the dental health of all children.

2. We offer sedation dentistry. This point is specific to our three office practices. Each of our pediatric dentists and their offices is fully equipped to provide three different sedation dentistry options: oral sedation, nitrous oxide, and intravenous sedation. Together our pediatric dentists have performed over 30,000 in-office sedation procedures. We understand that despite good communication, an office tour, and explanations of the tools and what purpose they serve some kids will struggle with the sensory experience or even the period of time required for them to sit still. Sedation dentistry is a helpful support to provide necessary dental treatments or complicated procedures in a manner that is less stressful for your child.

Tips for Your Trip to the Pediatric Dentist

Each child with autism is different and has different challenges and specialties. This is a varied list of ideas that may be appropriate for some but not all children on the spectrum. You are the expert when it comes to your child, we hope you can find something on this list that could be helpful.

1. Visit the office before the appointment and take pictures. It may be helpful for your child to visit the office without the pressure of the dental appointment on the same day. Let them sit in the waiting room and discover the atmosphere of it. Take some pictures of the waiting room and staff. Later, at home, show them the pictures and discuss.

2. Stop over at your local library and ask for books about the dentist. Libraries are a fabulous source of reading literature that may not pop up on a Google search. Ask your librarian about videos or music on the topic as well. You might be surprised by what they can find for you.

3. Prioritize and habituate dental hygiene at home. Our children form habits now that can stay with them forever. This applies to children on the spectrum as well. Are you fostering dental hygiene habits at home?

4. Role-play a trip to the dentist. Parents should practice being the patient as well as taking a turn as the dentist. Practice lying down and holding your mouth wide open. Purchase rubber gloves, and a small dental mirror from a nearby pharmacy for a more in-depth role-play experience.

5. Bring a comfort item to the appointment. There is nothing wrong with allowing your child their comfort item for a dentist’s office visit. Whether it be a blanket, a toy, a stuffed animal, or some other item of personal importance, we encourage it.

6. Lay the groundwork for a positive experience. Ask to visit with the pediatric dentist ahead of time. Share with the staff and the pediatric dentist your child’s diagnosis, and specifics about his or her behaviors, ability to communicate, and any sensitivities to lights or sounds.

7. Practice with visual sequencing cards (and bring them to the appointment). The National Museum of Dentistry put together a comprehensive guide for families with children on the spectrum. This guide covers topics supporting at-home dental hygiene, preparation for a trip to the dentist, and even includes visual sequencing cards that you can print and cut out. Find and download the guide, here.

Utah Pediatric Dentists Welcome Families with Autism

At Utah Pediatric Dentists, we welcome kids with special needs. Each of our dentists is dedicated, compassionate, loving father. Our support staff is selected because of their dedication to our mission and vision. We believe that all children have the right to healthy teeth and happy smiles.

Please call us and share your child’s diagnosis and needs. We will take the necessary steps to provide you and your autistic child with comfort, understanding, and compassion for a positive dental office experience.