When you have a child with special needs, you have many concerns to deal with. Keeping up with dental appointments can slip down your list of priorities. For the sake of your child’s dental and overall health, it’s important to bring this issue back to the top of the list. It may be difficult to keep dental care for your special needs child as a high priority or at best, it’s daunting. In honor of April being National Autism Month, we offer tips to make dental appointments a positive experience for special needs patients and their families.
Schedule an Office Tour Before A Dental Visit for your Special Needs Child
Kim Varian, a dental hygienist at First Choice Dental's Fitchburg location, has worked extensively with patients who have special needs. She recommends, "If you are looking for a dental provider for your child with special needs, schedule a tour to familiarize the child with the clinic surroundings and the staff. The tour will give you a sense of the atmosphere and culture of the office, and the clinic should allow you to make this preliminary step." Aides often accompany the child on these tours as well. Varian also suggests that families schedule appointments for special needs patients during “quiet” times, on slower days, when the office is not as busy. She says, "Ask the dental office about when quiet times are when you call to schedule your tour. They’ll be able to tell you."
Hygienist Kim Varian adds, "While some families believe looking for a pediatric dental specialist might be helpful, we’ve heard from some families that they’ve found pediatric dental settings to be over-stimulating for their child."
Make sure the clinic is willing to schedule enough appointment time to slowly introduce your child to the processes taking place.
Make Sure Your Dentist will Go At Your Pace
Sometimes, steps have to occur in intervals, with small breaks in between. Varian says, "We work with parents to understand the verbal cues and communication tools they use to help their child cooperate. We try to find the right door in to help the child have a good experience. It’s important not to push a child further than he or she is willing or able to go. We also work with parents to understand and address sensitivities the child may have to sound, touch, or light. If needed, we’ll work in dim lighting, provide headphones, or sometimes provide the child with a weighted vest to give the child a sense of comfort and security."
First Choice Dental dentist Dr. David Penwell echoes what dental hygienist Kim Varian recommends, “There’s no rush from our perspective. Our goal is to develop a successful relationship for the long haul. We may spend your child’s first appointment or two just getting comfortable with our team and our office. That helps us establish trust and earn the right to provide more clinical care at their next appointment. Your goal as a parent should be to find a dentist who’s willing to pace himself or herself based on your child’s sensitivities and needs.”
Dental Care for Special Needs Children Requires Great Communication Between Parents & Dentist
Dr. Penwell also says that as a dentist, providing great care for children with special needs requires good communication and partnership with parents. “Parents of children with special needs are their child’s best advocate. The more information we have to work with, the better. Be bold about telling your dentist what your child needs before, during and after your appointment. When we can work with you to know and be sensitive to your child’s needs, we’re able to deliver a great dental experience for you and your child.”
It is essential to share your specific concerns with your dental health provider. Whether it’s regarding the introduction of fluoride, the use of flavored polish, filling or sealant materials, or medications affecting your child’s teeth – these concerns should be addressed and respected.
Over the years we have been rewarded by the progress our patients have made. It’s most important to find a provider who will take the time to listen, to provide compassion, and to go the extra mile to meet your child’s unique needs. For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists, make an appointment online. Or call any one of our Locations.