Going to the Dentist

One of the things I try to do during the summer, when the kids don’t have their school schedule to contend with, is to catch up on non-emergent appointments like the dentist.

I will be honest here; Matt hasn’t ever been to the dentist for his own appointment. Now, he has gone with his brothers and sat in the chair (more like ran around the office like a nutcase) and has even had an appointment made for him, but he hasn’t actually gone. My bad.

One of my many goals this summer is to get Matthew to the dentist and get his teeth checked.

And I am nervous as all get out at just the thought of it.

Having a child with sensory issues, control issues (agenda issues?) and who generally doesn’t like doctors (a new concept rooted in his broken arm trauma, although he had a successful check up at our new pediatrician two weeks ago) means that I have to be creative – at a minimum.

Here are some ideas that I am going to use, that I have used for Gabe and Nick, or that my friends have used. Maybe one will work for your tooth-brush avoider?

1. Take a tour: Take your child into check out the dentist office before their appointment. Make it all what they want to do – do they want to look at the water pick? Do they want to sit in the chair? Let them explore. You can even schedule extra appointments, and go a few extra times just for exploring and practicing – desensitize them to the office environment.

2. Plan a good time: Make the appointment when your child is most like to cooperate – when they aren’t too tired or too hungry – whatever time of day works best, do it then. And wait for an appointment that fits – don’t get pressured into taking the first available. If you’ve waited this long, what’s a few more weeks?

3. Read a book: Visuals work great for our kids, and existing books like Green Puppy Goes to the Dentist (Blues Clues), or the similar Caillou version, both of which we just bought, help give our kids an idea of what is going to happen in a familiar and child-friendly way.

4. Practice at Home:  For the last two or three nights before their dentist appointments, Nick, Gabe and I would practice playing dentist at home.  We would each take a turn being the 'dentist' and 'patient' and would walk through all of the steps.  Usually we did this while brushing our teeth, but sometimes in bed after their books.  It was a great way to reduce the anxiety of what would happen.

5. Make a social story: There are some FANTASTIC apps out there for iPad and iTouch/iPhone that work wonderfully for this (check out this blog post for video), or just simply get out your crayons and start coloring (Ok, I use clipart, you could even take photos if you wanted). Either way, showing your child a simple visual story that tells them what they should expect can help make the appointment more successful.

6. Check list: Make a check list for the Dentist office – a list of things that will happen in numeric order: 1. Check in 2. Go to the chair 3. Put on the bib 4. Open your mouth, all the way to leaving with a prize. You can even put stickers or checkmarks next to each step as you go, and don’t forget a BIG FAT prize at the end – give your child a real thing to work for -- I am not above bribing. 

7. Keep them comfortable: Gabriel has taken his Hippo Blanket, a stuffed Lion, and even a heavy blanket to appointments in the past. Take what works for your kid – who cares if he is 9 years old and still talks baby talk to a stuffed animal?! Right?

8. Auditory: The dentist office sounds awful. It does. From the drills, and compressors starting up, to the other kids crying or whining – it isn’t a good place. Bring your little one earplugs, noise canceling headphones, an MP3 Player to listen to, a DS to play with earphones or even a portable DVD player with earphones so they can ignore that part – plus the visual distraction can be great!

9. Visual:  There is a lot going on at the dentist's office -- bright lights and people moving around with strange shiny instruments.  If you do not have a DVD player or DS for your child to watch, bring dark sunglasses so that when the dentist uses that spot light on your kid's teeth, it doesn't send him into meltdown!

10.  The chair:  The dentist's chair is not exactly relaxing -- our kids are too small for it often times, and it moves.  I know the dentist wants to pretend that is like a 'ride' at an amusement park, but really, it is just strange.  You can prepare your child for this unusual chair or ask the dentist to do the exam in a stationery chair. 

I also think that having a good dentist that understands your child’s needs is hugely important.  Ask around and find a children’s dentist that specializes in kids with autism and sensory issues. They will be more familiar with what is going on with your child, more flexible with your need to use supports and even can offer new and fresh ideas that are more clinical than these (like sedation dentistry).

I personally hate the dentist, so another suggestion I have, is to bring back up.  If your child has to have dental work done other than a check up, bringing your spouse or another adult can be very helpful.  Recently, Gabe had two teeth pulled and it was just as bad on me as it was on him. Thankfully, Jeff was there to support both of us. It helped me keep my anxiety and stress under wraps, which helped keep things calm for Gabe.

Going to the dentist is hard for our kids, but the best time to get them used to something new is when they are young.  Trying to help them establish good habits is important -- even if you hate the dentist like I do.

If you have any great ideas -- tricks or tips -- please share them!

Photo:  Gabriel at his first dentist appointment at age 3 -- don't you love the glasses?


Chynna said...

Jaimie and Jordy both started going to the dentist this year. Our dentist ROCKS! Seriously. He's the sweetest guy--SO patient and gentle. The best part is that he has tv's in every room with headphones! Jaimie loved that! (Of course, her strong gag reflex and her very strong tongue and jaw made doing anything in her mouth very difficult. HA!)

Jaimie also held her squeezy ball in her hands. She was okay with it but we haven't had any serious work (eg: cleaning) yet. And she most likely will need braces. Ugh. One thing at a time, right? HA!


~ Kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~ Kristen said...

Thank you for posting this I am in tears reading it (it was a great post I swear lol) I am just remembering back to a horrific experience we last had at the dentist. :( To make a long story short we prepped the boys, focused on Nash more, we had just started our journey with SPD and Wyatt was low on the radar....Nash did great and Wyatt our 4 year old was the one who was mortified and I ended up taking my kids out of the office in the middle of the exam because of the staff. Looking back from where we are now and his noise sensitivity and SPD he has ....I am not surprised, I feel so bad for him. Anyways they are due (over due) and I need to suck it up and take them.

If anyone has any dentist they recommend in the Puget Sound Area (Washington) please let me know, KJordan714@gmail.com I'll drive if needed to a great one I am not taking the kids back to the one we went to locally. :/

Thanks again for this post!!!

(Edited for spelling errors lol)

Tired Mom said...

Good luck with the visit! I know that I have refrained from taking my daughter to the dentist because of her sensory issues. She's 4 now and I really need to take her, but I'm so apprehensive! Update us on how the visit went - and good luck again!

Beth said...

Don't forget to prep for the smells!!! That cleaner/sanitizer stuff they use is very obnoxious! My daughter tolerates the hygienist fairly well, but isn't wild about the dentist. Not sure why, but they have been WONDERFUL with her. Each visit she gets a little better! Best of luck!

Casey said...

Luke visited the dentist for the 1st time this year and he did amazingly well. We were lucky enough to be referred to a Pediatric dentist who specializes in children with sensory issues such as SPD or Autism (at the time he had a diagnosis of PDD-NOS).

I have found that Luke does best when I don't go in with him, I'm not sure why.
I definitely agree with the dark sunglasses, Luke insists on them when we go...well, anywhere!

Nancy Peske said...

For his first five years, my son went to a pediatric dentist whose practice allowed extra time for nervous patients and who knew a bunch of tricks for making the visit and cleaning more tolerable. Once I learned the tricks that worked for him, I felt comfortable going to a regular dentist.
One thing my regular dentist told me, which I thought was a good tip, is don't try to describe a procedure to your child before talking to the dentist to make sure you have your details right. So many procedures have changed since we were kids--you might unintentially upset your child over something that as it turns out, they no longer do as part of that procedure.

Stacey,momof 2 said...

Love all your suggestions-- very well organized and put together...
There is a book by the Bernstain (sp?) Bears and also Harry and his bucket full of Dinosaurs...
Maybe a heavy blanket might be helpful?-- The other thing I would suggest is asking if the dentist minds if your child takes off his or her socks, or sandles-sometimes that can help to calm a SPD kiddo down. We usually rub Shane's legs and feet while things are being done so that he is not as focused on his mouth.
The other thing I would suggest is playing a game at home about Xray's... put up a blanket and act out walking behind the blanket and pretending to press a button... make a noise. explain that Xrays DO not hurt and they are only pictures of our insides.For us, it went better if Daddy went back with Shane and I waited in the waiting room with praise.

Anonymous said...

I take my son to a very child friendly, pediatric dentist who has TV's on the ceiling, hooked up to video games. My son is plugged into Mario Kart (visual and sound distraction), wearing sunglasses, and lying flat on a child sized padded table (no "dentist" chairs for regular cleanings). The only thing that is difficult these days, is the taste of the polishing paste and the flavored dental floss. I ask the dentist to not use flavored floss. But there is nothing I can do about the polishing paste. They work quickly, so my son just deals with it.

Tiffani Lawton, OJTA said...

Excellent Tips and I will be using some of them real soon. Eamon has his first dental visit in a few weeks! Also, the suggestions are so awesome that I will print out and share with the dental office for other patients.

I will share our story and link to your suggestions after our appointment at the end of the month!


Lise Raev said...

These are great tips. I had never thought of taking a child to the dentist before he has to go for the first time. That totally makes sense, though; he'll be much more comfortable if the environment isn't totally foreign. Thanks for the wisdom!