July 25, 2022


Pro Tips

Pro Tips: Visiting the Dentist

Pro Tips provided by Johanna Shaflucas M.S. Ed., BCBA, Clinical Coordinator of Behavioral Support; Gretchen Abdulla, Supervising Clinician-Behavior Support; and the Behavior Support team.

Going to the dentist is not a trip most children and adults look forward to, but it’s necessary to maintain our health. Children with autism may have a heightened aversion to the dentist for a variety of reasons. It can be an overwhelming experience in an unfamiliar place. Below are some tips to make visits to the dentist a little easier:

1. Plan in advance of your child’s visit.

Prepare your child for a trip to the dentist using social stories with pictures of the office, the doctor they’ll see, and the instruments that will be used. Explain to your child why they need to go to the dentist and what’s going to happen while they’re there. Videos can also help prepare them for what they will see and experience.

If your child is really averse to visiting the dentist, help them get used to the idea by taking small steps. For example, drive to the office several times and use positive reinforcement so your child becomes familiarized with the trip. Then practice walking up to the door the next few times until your child feels more comfortable entering the building.

2. Practice at home.

Consider purchasing practice dental tools for your home so your child can see and touch them. Practice at home with non-sharp tools to familiarize your child with the cleaning process. Have them practice opening their mouth, swishing and spitting mouthwash or water into a sink, or try having them use an electric toothbrush to get them used to the sound and feel of the brushes used by the dentist.

3. Talk to your dentist.

Let your dentist know about any needs your child may have. Some dentists will offer practice appointments where you can bring your child to the office to meet the doctor, sit in the chair, and look at the dental tools they’ll see during their real appointment.

If your child has difficulty waiting for longer periods of time, try to get the first appointment of the day. If that’s not possible, ask the dental office what can be done to reduce the wait time for your child. You may have to set up several appointments for cleaning and a dental exam if your child can only handle sitting in the chair for short periods of time.

4. Come prepared.

Bring some of your child’s favorite items to keep them distracted while they wait. Some dental offices have TVs that can play movies or favorite TV shows, so consider bringing DVDs they enjoy to make their experience more positive.

If you need to fill out paperwork, contact the dental office to see if you can do this ahead of time so you can stay focused on your child as you wait for the dentist.