Probably one of the tougher things for kids on the spectrum is having someone mess with their teeth. Most of our kiddos have a lot of oral defensiveness. It took a long time and many sessions of OT before Boo would willingly let me brush his teeth. He just did not like it. At age 15, I still brush his teeth. To promote independence I let him try on his own first but mostly he just likes to chew on the brush. After I let him fiddle around I get in there and give his teeth a thorough yet gentle scrubbing. Over the years this has become less of a battle and more of a bedtime routine. It helps that school also has kids brush their teeth after lunch every day so mom is not the total bad guy.
So, tooth brushing is okay (don’t even get me started on flossing) but going to the dentist is an ordeal. I am trying to psych myself up because Boo has a dental cleaning scheduled for next week. I can’t blame the kid, I hate going to the dentist too. I don’t like the way the office smells or sounds, and I certainly don’t like having foreign objects put in my mouth. The only way to get me through a routine filling is having nitrous oxide on board, otherwise my anxiety is just too high. I did not realize how great laughing gas is until this year and am an instant convert. But, nitrous is not not enough to take the edge off for Boo, even for a routine cleaning. We have a wonderful dentist who is very patient with him. She has examined him while he has been lying on top of me, with him between the two of us with his head in my lap, and about every other position known to man. Nothing phases her. So, between the two of us we can usually make it through a routine cleaning though it really stresses poor Boo out. Fillings are an entirely different matter. Luckily, Boo has good teeth and has only needed fillings twice in his life. To get his teeth filled he has to go to the hospital and be put under complete anesthesia. It is an all day process that wipes both of us and our pocketbook out.
So, how can you make dental visits a little less traumatic?
- Start going to the dentist with your child when they are still a toddler. The first few times, just have them sit in the chair and have the dentist look at their teeth. Keep it low key. Immediately afterwards do something fun so your child will have a pleasant association with the visit.
- Try social stories. Boo does not really like social stories but other kids need to have them and find them very helpful.
- Find a patient dentist who understands the needs of kids on the spectrum. If you are not certain how to do this, look in the directory at either Autism Society of MN or Autism Speaks. Both are great resources for all sorts of things including friendly dentists.
So here we are, staring down a dental appointment for next Friday. I am not looking forward to it. If Boo knew it was on the calendar he would not be looking forward to it. But, it must be done and the hopefully we will not have to come back for another six months. If you have any ideas about how to make dental visits less traumatic, or have a technique which works with your child, by all means please chime in. We would love to hear from you.