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A Guide to Taking a Child With Autism and Sensory Issues to the Dentist

By November 22, 2023Kids Dentistry, Orthodontics

For kids, going to the dentist can include a lot of new sights, sounds, smells, and people. And for kids with ASD or sensory issues, these things can be especially difficult. If you’ve been wondering, “Can a child with autism go to the dentist?” The answer is a resounding, “For sure!”

You’ll be glad to know that the team at Kids Mile High Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics is your pediatric dentist in Denver, Englewood, and Thornton for autistic kids and kids with special needs. We’re trained and experienced in gentle techniques, protective stabilization, and, if needed, sedation dentistry — so your child is always comfortable and safe.

That said, a positive dental experience starts at home, so to help you prepare your child for a trip to the dentist, Dr. Paddy, Dr. Roger, and Dr. Meredith have some tips for setting your child up for dental care success at home and preparing them for dental visits.

Sensory Support For At-Home Dental Care

Kids with autism or sensory issues can benefit from at-home brushing that suits their particular sensory needs. As a Denver pediatric dentist who’s treated many kids with sensory issues, we suggest an electric toothbrush for kids who need extra sensory stimulation. The extra movement can have a calming effect… and is also extra fun! An electric toothbrush might encourage your child to brush longer too, resulting in a cleaner, brighter smile.

On the other hand, sensory avoiders might need a change in toothpaste or a modified brushing technique because of the uncomfortable physical feeling of a toothbrush in their mouths. If this is the case for your child, try unflavored toothpaste or a different flavor of toothpaste. As your pediatric dentist in Denver, give us a shout if you need some product recommendations! Although toothpaste is recommended, in difficult situations, always remember that even a wet toothbrush with no toothpaste to remove plaque and food particles is preferable to no brushing at all!

If a change in toothpaste or a modified brushing technique isn’t helping, here are some bigger-picture techniques for easing your child into feeling comfortable with dental care. Pediatric dentists recommend that an adult brush their kids’ teeth or supervise tooth brushing until about age 7 or 8 due to the lack of dexterity in younger children.

1. Gentle touch: Start by providing gentle pressure to the back of your child’s head for five seconds, repeating three times. Do this three to five times per day, preferably where your child will be brushing their teeth. If the bathroom isn’t where your child feels comfortable, choose a different setting in your home where they feel more relaxed.

Once your child is comfortable with gentle touch on the back of their head, extend your routine with gentle pressure below the ears, lower cheekbones, and sweeping motions from the ears to the chin. Then try applying pressure on the lower and upper lip, and upper cheekbones.

2. Move on to a warm washcloth: Repeat those same gentle touches with a warm washcloth. At this point, ask your child if you can touch their teeth with the warm cloth.

3. Introduce a toothbrush: At this point, if your child is okay with the washcloth touching their teeth, introduce a toothbrush without toothpaste. Gently brush with a soft, kid-sized toothbrush. Let your child pick out their own toothbrush at the store.

4. Bring on the toothpaste: Adding toothpaste is the last step. Make sure it’s one with fluoride and use only a pea-sized amount. Of course, the flavor is up to you and your child and it may take a few tries to find a toothpaste they’re okay with. Show your child how you brush your teeth and brush your teeth together.

Preparing For Your Child’s VIsit To The Dentist

Preparing your child with ASD or sensory issues in advance goes a long way in easing anxiety and experiencing a smooth visit. As your specialist for autistic and special needs kiddos, we’re happy to have you come in for a tour in advance of your actual check up/cleaning appointment. A tour is also a great time to chat with Dr. Paddy, Dr. Roger, or Dr. Meredith about your child’s needs.

If a big tour is too overwhelming, no worries! Break up your introductory visit into smaller steps. For example, you can first come in, say hello to our friendly reception team, and then hang out in our fun reception area. Our “Fun Zone” has games, toys, and a giant fish tank. A second visit can then include a tour of the treatment areas and a chat with our doctors and dental care team.

One great way to further alleviate pre-visit anxiety? Your pediatric dentists serving Denver/ Englewood/Thornton areas suggest a visual schedule at home that shows every step that will happen at a dental visit. Steps can include:

  • Choosing a comfort item to bring
  • Waiting/playing in the waiting area beforehand
  • How to sit in the dentist chair (feet out, mouth open wide, etc)
  • What the hygienist or doctor will do when examining your mouth
  • What they’ll do when cleaning your teeth
  • What happens during x-rays
  • Getting a prize

Visit Your Denver Pediatric Dentist Specializing in Autism and Sensory Needs

Kids Mile High is your go-to team of board-certified (and award-winning!) Denver pediatric dentists for safe and comfortable treatment if your child has ASD or sensory issues. With

Got more questions about taking your ASD child or child with sensory issues to the dentist? Contact us so we can work together to ensure a healthy smile for your child.

Dr. Paddy

Author Dr. Paddy

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