For most of us a visit to the dentist is a scary thought, with a large number of the population actually experiencing an un-rational fear of the drill noise, smells and even the dentist himself!
This fear of going to the dentist is picked up on by our children and the never ending cycle of dreading the 6 monthly check-up takes root.
However with autism, this fear and dread are not always picked up, autistic children and adults, don’t have the ability to “mind read” or read other peoples body language.
So what are the difficulties with a dental visit for your autistic child?
Well for a start there is the first hurdle, why do I need to see a dentist? This man or woman wearing a white coat, who expects them to lay in a chair with a bright light shining in their face, while they look into their mouth using strange equipment.
Although you yourself understand why it is important to have a regular check-up and keep your teeth and gums healthy. Your autistic child may not understand what healthy hygiene habits are, and indeed the importance of having healthy teeth and gums.
So what do you need to be aware of once you have actually got your autistic child into the dentist…
Autistic children are very sensitive, and your mouth is one of the most sensitive areas on your body, so this it-self may cause an anxiety trigger for your autistic child.
The feel of the cold instrument entering their mouth, the drill sensation, the water spraying, the taste of the mouth wash or paste, all these things could be anxiety triggers..
The feel of the dentist chair, the rubber gloves the dentist will wear, the bright light above their face, even the goggles they may be asked to wear are these colored, if so this could also be an anxiety trigger.
The perfume or aftershave, deodorant the nurse or dentist is wearing, the smell in the dentist room, even reception area, the lady opposite you waiting maybe she has perfume on that will trigger an anxiety attack along with these factors comes the uncertainty of why they are even there, why they need to let this dentist look in their mouth.
All these things need consideration before you even step foot into the dentist…One tool you can use to help explain why we need to visit the dentist and some of the things that will happen while they are there is something many parents have found helpful; “autism social stories”.
These small carefully written social skill stories will give your autistic child clear instructions and explanations as to what is happening, why it is happening, and what they can expect from others at the time, and what others will be expecting of them.
Armed with a good social skills story you can help your autistic child better cope with visiting the dentist as well as many other activities and events they will come across in their everyday lives, things we take for granted as “normal”. But to an autistic child can be distressing even frightening…