Visiting the dentist can be scary and challenging for many reasons. This is particularly hard for autistic children especially those with sensory processing difficulties. In this post I will look at some things to help with visiting the dentist and brushing teeth.
Visual aids can make a big difference for visual thinkers. Having step by step instructions to support tooth brushing in the bathroom can really help. This post from Healthline has some great visuals you can use.
Some children will really struggle with toothpaste, it can be very strong tasting which can be too overwhelming. Recommendations to try are Sensodyne Pronamel gentle mint toothpaste, this one has a milder flavour and doesn’t have the foaming agent that most do. Orannurse is another flavourless toothpaste that you can try. Our jaw is full of proprioceptors and some will be seeking more sensory input here (chewing / biting) whilst others will be avoiding it. For some an electric toothbrush can be great. You can also get three way shaped toothbrushes which can be helpful.
Visiting the dentist
Preparing for a trip to the dentist is really worthwhile, especially with younger kids who are less familiar with going. A great way to prepare for a trip to the dentist is with visual books. A few of my favourites:
You could also write your own social story.
I like to read our books about the dentist a few days before we go so the kids have time to process the information.
Role play is another great way to prepare, often dentists will give you a pair of the gloves they use and a disposable dental mirror if you ask. This way you can practice at home, the feeling of a gloved hand in your mouth is very different to an ungloved hand. I know my kids would naturally bite if someone put their finger in their mouth so it took a bit of practice letting me put the mirror, toothbrush in their mouth before working on fingers.
Playdoh do a lovely set for making teeth which can be another way to play and talk about teeth / dentists etc.
Don’t forget to use visuals to show your child they are going to the dentist, like the now and next board below. It can also help to have a reward planned for afterwards.
Loosing a tooth
When our kids start to have wobbly teeth and lose them it can be really scary for some kids. Others like my eldest may barely seem to notice. There is a great episode of Peppa Pig about her tooth falling out called ‘Tooth Fairy’, there is also an episode of Ben and Holly about the tooth fairy. Watching these especially when our kids have a wobbly tooth or have lost a tooth can help them understand that it is ok.
Some dentists will be really accommodating of our kids needs but this is not always the case. If you feel your child would benefit from a dentist with a better understanding of autism then you can access the Community Dental Hospital Service. The Community Dental Services will usually have staff with experience of additional needs and longer appointment times. Your existing dentist can make a referral and or you can find out more information here or call NHS England on 03003112233.
Our first visit to the Community Dental Hospital Service was just to say hello, try out the chair and talk about brushing teeth. The idea being that small steps would be taken so that my son was comfortable before they need to do any treatment. I have found it a great service for my son.
Do you have any teeth tips? Share them in the comments below.