What’s your favorite part about going to the dentist? If you’re like most people, it’s leaving the office when the appointment is over. For adults and children on the autism spectrum, just getting to the appointment in the first place can feel like an insurmountable challenge.
Enter Dr. Krystal Manning, a dentist who opened her practice in Louisville, Kentucky in 2017. She had a novel idea: treat the whole person, not just their mouth. In pursuit of this whole-person approach, she worked with an autism therapist to develop a desensitizing dentistry program to make in-office care possible for those with sensory processing challenges.
Dr. Manning wanted to make sure that her dental practice was “Taking into account the whole patient and the whole person.”
Her office, Solstice Dental and Aesthetics, is committed to transparency and kindness, and when patients walk in the door they find an open, welcoming office. “You’re not going to walk into a tiny box and a tiny windowless box and be asked to open your mouth and endure treatment,” Dr. Manning said. She struggles with dental anxiety herself, and she understands that dental appointments can be scary for anyone.
But the desensitizing program was inspired by her son, five-year-old Lincoln, who was diagnosed with autism when he was about two years old. Dr. Manning worked with one of Lincoln’s therapists to develop a program that helps those sensory-processing challenges feel comfortable in her office.
Patients are allowed to schedule as many appointments as they need to get used to the office before they climb into the dental chair. They can start by just walking into the office, progress to sitting on the couch in the waiting room, and then start getting used to the dental chair and dental tools. Dr. Manning says it takes an average of four to five appointments before a patient feels comfortable enough for a cleaning.
That patience is appreciated by parents like Melissa Webster, whose son William, eight, has autism. She drives about 30 minutes to visit Dr. Manning’s office, even though there are dental offices closer to her home. It took six months before William was ready to sit in the dental chair, and Dr. Manning never rushed him.
Melissa says, “Even if I was five minutes late and he came in and he fell to the ground and he was upset and he was having a hard time and I was having a hard time and I’m crying, she [Dr. Manning] walks over and wipes a tear off my face and says ‘we’ll do it again tomorrow.'”
That kind of understanding, and patience, means the world to patients like Melissa and William.
A dentist’s office can be overwhelming for anyone, and patients with autism may have a harder time and be met with less understanding. Dr. Manning wants to make the experience as calming and caring as possible. While her program is not for everyone and children with emergent dental needs may be referred, she says she is always willing to try a new patient.
Solstice Dental and Aesthetics has a teal certification, which means it’s an autism-friendly business. But their pledge to transparency, kindness, and patience extends to every patient who walks through the door.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.