Nolan is 4 years old. He has never been to the dentist. He has non-verbal autism with oral sensitivity (read that as brushing his teeth is torture to us all). We have been putting off the first dentist visit because it was going to be hard on us all.
At a recent neighborhood round robin, we were discussing the struggles of appointments with children who have exceptional needs (there is a boy on our street who has CF so he is no stranger to the doctor and no fun appointments). We were talking about the first dentist visit and how much I was dreading it because of the nightmare stories–but also because we pretty much hold him down every night to brush his teeth because that is better than a cavity and we just need to know the damage–the kids motivator is sweets for goodness sake. The next day there was an article in a local magazine stating there is a new pediatric dentist in the area who does have experience working with kids of special needs. A neighbor took a photo of the article and sent it. We called that day and get more information.
First we noted that Nolan was non-verbal autism with oral sensitivity and the assured us that would not be a problem. They told us they have the means to help (medication) but also try to do social stories, meet the kids where they are at, take it slow, etc. We went for it and made the appointment.
Walking in Nolan was in a great mood. He disappeared while doing the initial paperwork through the rabbit door and went to explore. Haha.
He had no problem sitting in the chair and having the tools on his fingers. He was intrigued with what was going on and even reached out when she didn’t touch his thumb with the flosser.
He did not like laying down, I think part the angle and vulnerability and part the sun in his eyes. We tried as she counted his teeth , I held his hands and his little legs were going like a pinned alligator. The whole time the dentist was soothing, singing, and doing her best to be calming. I picked him up, calmed him down and we moved chairs hoping the sun being out of his eyes would be better. He was pretty worked up at this point, but she was able to floss, brush, and paint on the vitamin on. He was worked up, but not in a tortured kind of way, in a he’s upset but we can power through it kind of way–a sad, scared 4 year old.
I never felt like my child was being held down, tortured, or treated unfairly. They were never condescending, angry with his response, or parenting. They totally understood this is our Nolan and how he reacts (due to his sensitivities, inability to communicate fears and discomfort, and lack of understanding) and never acted like it was a child “being bad”–all nightmare stories I have heard of children on the spectrum going to the dentist.
If you are local, I would very much recommend Litter Critter Pediatric Dentistry. I would recommend this for a child on the spectrum and not (we plan on bringing Stella here as well). If you are not local, I recommend doing research, making sure to find a pediatric dentist who specializes or at least has experience in kids with special needs. Also, find a doctor who has capabilities to use sedation but isn’t insistent on it if it’s not necessary. Do research, mention it to neighbors, use a network. Know the child may be uncomfortable, you may need to hold them there for their own good, tears are going to be ok, but you should not feel like you cannot take breaks, you are forced to hold them down, and your child cannot calm down. Finally, as much as it may suck, try to do the dental health at home to avoid needing to be a bigger services at the dentist–such as fillings, caps, surgery, etc.