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Preparing your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Dentist

Preparing Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the Dentist

Big Brother had a dentist appointment on Thursday.  I had forgot about it until I received a reminder phone call on Monday. All of a sudden, I became anxious.

Our last dentist appointment six months ago was a mini-disaster. Big Brother screamed, squirmed, and yelled so bad that the dental hygienist could barely brush his teeth.  I was exhausted, embarrassed and overwhelmed by the time it was all over.  There was no way that I wanted to go through that again! I decided to be more proactive this time around.  I started telling Big Brother on Monday after he got home from school that he was going to the dentist on Thursday.  Every day, I reminded him that it was coming.  On the day before his appointment, I did an extensive role play for his trip to the dentist.  This is how I did it…

I had Big Brother to lie down on our chaise lounge, just like he would do in the chair at the dentist.  Then I pulled out the toy dental mirror that he received from his last appointment.

“Look at this mirror,” I said. “The dentist is going to use this to look at your teeth.  Say aaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwww….”

Big Brother started grinning and said, “aaaaaawwwwwwwwwwww,” as I sneakily slid the mirror in his mouth.  He was pretty fascinated by it and started playing with it. Then I held up his toothbrush and told him that the dentist is going to brush his teeth, but it’s going to have a loud sound. I pretended to brush his teeth while I made loud buzzing noises. Big Brother continued to grin and laugh like I was doing stand up comedy.

Next, we went through the floss routine.  No issues there. Then came the ultimate bribe.

“If you do good at your dentist appointment, Mommy will take you to Chick-Fil-A!”

Big Brother screamed out with glee, “CHICK-FIL-A!!!!”

I knew from that moment, he would try his best and that was all I could ask for. Before bedtime, we did three more dress rehearsals for our upcoming adventure.  Big Brother really enjoyed the role playing and became very excited about his dentist appointment.

On the morning of, he woke up and said, “Going to the dentist!” “Yes, you are,” I said.  We did another dress rehearsal before school with Dear Hubby’s assistance. Then we reminded Big Brother of his schedule for the day: First school, then dentist, then back to school.

Later that morning, I picked up Big Brother from school and headed to the dentist office with Baby Brother in tow.  This dental office has a Special Needs Day every month for persons that need more time during appointments. After our last appointment, the staff didn’t hesitate to set us up for Special Needs Day! 🙂

Big Brother was nervous when we arrived, but calmed down once he saw the train table in the waiting room.  After about a 10 minute wait, we were called to the back for Big Brother’s appointment.

My son sat down on the edge of the chair and was very anxious. I went through the process again with him on what was about to happen.  We were lucky enough to have the same dental hygienist from last time and she remembered Big Brother. No surprise there. He was very resistant at first to letting her brush his teeth.  The toothpaste she used was a thick, beige looking color and he is used to his blue Kids Crest Sparkle Fun Toothpaste.  After he realized that her loud toothbrush wasn’t going to hurt, he calmed down.  The rinsing process threw him off because we didn’t practice that during role play, but he worked through it.

After his teeth were brushed, Big Brother had the chance to choose a toy from the bin. He chose a blue airplane and flew it around the office saying, “Ready, Set, GO!!!”  He said it so many times that Baby Brother joined in on the fun. Big Brother would say, “Ready, Set…” and Baby Brother would yell out, “GO!!!!!”  It was a fun brother bonding moment and the staff thought it was really cute. Preparing Your Autistic Child for a Trip to the DentistSoon afterwards, the dentist came in. Big Brother wasn’t too motivated to get back in the chair because he thought he was done.  The dentist was very nice. She has a child with Autism too, so she knew how to work with Big Brother. She used the mirror to examine his teeth and mouth.  I talked to her about a few concerns that I had, but she put them all to rest.

Next was the pointy tool to check for cavities.  Big Brother was not having that!  We had to hold him until he understood that it wasn’t going to hurt him. She diverted his attention by using the tool to count his teeth.  That made him smile. After it was all over, Big Brother received a goodie bag with a brand new toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a slap wristband.  But of course, his favorite gift was the airplane that he chose after he got his teeth brushed.  As soon as he got out of the chair, he came to me and said, “CHICK-FIL-A?!?!” “Yes baby,” I said with a smile. “Mommy’s going to take you to Chick-Fil-A.” He came a long way from his last dental visit and I definitely was going to reinforce the effort he put into having a great appointment! Here are my tips for a successful trip to the dentist with an autistic child:

  1. Inform the dentist office of your child’s special needs in advance so that they can do their best to make accommodations if needed.  Tell them about any fears, sensory issues, or even topics of interest for your child.
  2. Schedule your appointment during a time that works best for your child. Take into consideration transition issues, nap times, and if your child does better in the morning or afternoon.
  3. If your child has never been to the dentist before, see if you can go to the office in advance and do a walk through so that your child can have a mental reference.
  4. Role play, role play, role play!  Reenact each part of the process as much as you can so that it will be familiar on the day of your appointment.
  5. Use social stories.  I saw several social stories about dentist visits that were available on iTunes for your iPad.  You can also create your own social story.
  6. Find an app or a video that explains the process of visiting the dentist. Some children are great visual learners and that can help make the concept of a dentist appointment more concrete for them.
  7. Don’t be afraid to throw in an incentive for progress.  For my son, it was Chick-Fil-A.  Choose whatever would motivate them to be successful.

What are your tips for a successful trip to the dentist?

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Susan Horby February 6, 2014, 1:09 PM

    Great planning job. You surely did a great job in getting Big Brother prepped and what to expect. On planning for a dental visit, I don’t because even to this day I am scared. You mention dentist and the sweat starts to accumulate on my body. I think you have very good points. Across the street from us an austic boy; so I know they are a handful but very pleasant. I believe the planning and making sure the caregiver that he/she is most comfortable with should be present.

    • Tonya February 6, 2014, 1:31 PM

      Hi Susan! I agree. A trusted caregiver present could definitely help things to go better. Dental visits aren’t fun for anyone, autism or not. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  • Carissa January 20, 2014, 11:59 PM

    This is an awesome story! Thanks for sharing! I have a daughter with a cleft lip & palate and there are always doctors messing with her mouth and shes getting to the age of not liking it and maybe if I do more at home it will help her when she is in the office!

  • Kimber Britner January 20, 2014, 8:54 AM

    Tonya, Thanks for sharing your story and great tips. Your experience offers a new lens for visiting the dentist that I hadn’t considered. Hey, I am apart of your new Sits Blog Building Group that started today. Great to connect with you here! You can find me at http://www.moxieme.com

  • Kathryn January 18, 2014, 6:49 PM

    Thank you so much for posting this! I am soo scared about taking Adam for his first visit, but I am definitely going to work on these things first. I appreciate all the tips! 🙂

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