Successful Dental Appointments for Your Child with Autism

Published on Feb 19, 2019


A child on the Autism Spectrum can present many challenges when preparing to see the dentist. Behavioral, Sensory, and Communication issues are the most common in dealing with this type of visit for your child.

Find The Right Dental Professional: A board-certified Pedodontist has had additional training in pediatrics and dental care for special needs children and will feel comfortable in dealing with your child. Prepare by asking your dentist how they handle children with autism and typical procedures for their visit. Knowing ahead of time will avoid any surprises. A short wait time is important, so try to schedule the appointment at a non-busy time for the practice or consider a “happy” or “desensitization” visit just to help your child get familiar with the office environment, meaning, no procedures. Discuss with the dentist or hygienist your child’s specific level of intellect and cognitive abilities so that appropriate behavioral management strategies can be planned. Allow your child to bring comfort items with them to the appointment to hold, such as a stuffed toy or blanket. Use the Tell, Show, Do technique of communication in short, clear, direct terms.

Successful Dental Appointments for Your Child with Autism

Sensory: If your child deals with sensory issues, be sure to discuss the specifics of those issues with your dentist ahead of time. Sounds, lights, tastes, and smells are all senses that they will encounter with their visit.  If your child is accustomed to daily brushing, you will be ahead of the game. The most difficult is the sensory issues with instruments and water in the mouth. Make a game out of counting their teeth at home and trying to introduce an electric toothbrush before the visit if possible. Knowing and sharing specific sensory issues your child has will help the staff better plan for treatment. For example, if your child is sensitive to water being sprayed in their mouth, the staff will use moist 2×2 gauze pads for cleaning the mouth and teeth. If your child likes to listen to headphones with music or stories, that will help with the noise that they will most likely encounter such as the dental handpiece, if a procedure is being done.

Communication: Communicating with the dentist, his staff, and your child ahead of time will aid in everyone working together to alleviate anxiety which will give your child a greater chance of experiencing a successful visit with the dentist. This is why we’re bringing this up again! Communication with your child, depending on their level of  ASD before the visit can go a long way in preparing them as well.

Other issues to consider:

  • Unique issues that can relate to the visit might include Bruxism or grinding of the teeth or other behaviors such as biting their lip or cheek may be discussed. A mouth guard might be recommended if your child is tolerant.
  • Seizures are another issue to discuss. Be sure the staff is aware of the potential for your child to have a seizure and any medications they may be on so that the dentist and staff can prepare.
  • Sedation is often times recommended if your child is having a difficult time or extensive treatment is recommended. There are various levels of sedation, from Conscious sedation (Lightly medicated and drowsy) to General Anesthesia (totally asleep). Based on the amount of work and ability of your child to tolerate procedures, a recommendation will be made. Don’t be afraid to ask questions specific to the type of anesthesia recommended by your dentist so that you have a clear understanding of what to expect.

It’s about YOU: Your child’s comfort and safety, as well as you and the staff are the most important issues to consider. A TEAM approach is the most effective in coming up with a plan to treat your child with ASD.  Knowing that there will be anxiety and challenges, open discussions and a plan ahead of time will help with obtaining a positive outcome and successful dental visit. No question should go unanswered as a parent!

Dr. Larry Caldwell specializes in the care of special needs children in dentistry. Have a Question for Dr. Caldwell, Inventor of The Harp Flosser and Fast & Easy Flossing? Simply Reply to this email or call us!  800-495-2783 or

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