Most people will agree that going to the dentist is not a trip they particularly enjoy, and many of us deal with feelings of dread and anxiety when faced with a trip to the dentist. But it’s important to go, and it’s particularly important for young children, who generally lack the dexterity to brush their teeth properly. They need to have their teeth checked periodically to ensure they’re doing a good job and not getting cavities, gum disease, and other oral issues.
Children with autism and other special needs are at a particularly high risk for tooth decay, because sensory issues and motor skill problems often lead to resistance or full-on inability to floss and brush properly. A child with autism may hate the texture or taste of toothpaste or might dislike the feeling or sound of a toothbrush against their tongue, teeth, and gums. They may also have issues with allowing others to touch them, which makes it difficult for their parents to check their work after they’ve brushed their teeth.
“It’s the sensory issue – the noise, the feel of the paste – they can’t process it all at the same time,” says Claudette Gardner, the practice manager at Daventry Dental. “They have a sensory overload and they push it away.”
Luckily, there are places like Daventry Dental Care where children with special needs can get the extra attention they need to ensure they’re doing a good job brushing their teeth and help them become accustomed to going to the dentist.
Claudette, a 35-year-old from Badby, in the UK, has a three-year-old daughter with autism and wanted to do something to help other parents and children going through similar situations. So when she became the practice manager at Daventry Dental, she implemented a one-day program in which children with special needs or a fear of the dentist could come in and sit in the dentist chair, get used to all the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, and learn how to brush their teeth properly.
“The reason I’m doing it is because I have an autistic child myself and I know how difficult things like teeth and hair brushing can be,” says Claudette. “I thought if I could share my knowledge, then I would, and now I can.”
Claudette’s main goal is to give kids with autism and other special needs a little extra time to get accustomed to the dentist so that their first “real” visit doesn’t involve as much anxiety.
“You need to feel at home in a place they don’t go very often so the point is to try out the chair and educate the child.”
Gardner tried out her new program on October 23, 2018, with 30-minute appointments. All but one slot was filled that day, and each child went home with new oral care skills, a certain sense of familiarity with the dental office, and a bag of goodies. Gardener hopes to offer the opportunity for more kids to try it sometime near the Christmas holidays.
Share this story to encourage other dentists to start offering similar appointments and to show parents that there are options to help their kids with autism deal with going to the dentist!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?