Dental visits can be very tough for a child with autism. The sensory overload, too much touching, noise, instruments, lights, possible pain. Even typical children and adults have a tough time at the dentist. Thankfully Bilal’s experiences have been good so far. When he was a baby or toddler, I never brushed his teeth, as a baby he had a toothbrush he would sometimes chew on and then as a toddler he liked to copy me and brush his teeth and I was fine with that, with doctor visits so difficult I didn’t see the point of visiting a dentist with his no issues or complaints with his teeth. As we were applying for pre-k it was required to get a dentist form, so I asked his pediatrician for a referral and we went to the first name on her list. Bilal absolutely refused to put the x-ray film into his mouth and the screaming and tense body reactions started so the dentist said it was fine for now due to his age (3 and a half) the check up, cleaning and fluoride was another struggle with the dentist holding him down. On the form I was honest and marked that we didn’t brush every day so when the dentist saw that he went on to give me a long lecture about how horrible and irresponsible that was of me and how important teeth health was and that it was essential that I brush his teeth for 3 minutes twice a day and floss daily and on and on he went. I thought by telling him my son has autism and sensory issues it would shut him up some. Surprise surprise he said that his son has autism too and he wraps him up in a blanket burrito style, puts him on the floor, puts his legs over him and tilts his head and brushes his teeth, every night its a struggle but its for his son’s own good. I was shocked he was telling me practically to tie down my son and force brush his teeth, how will he ever accept to brush his teeth without a fight and how will he ever enjoy it. At the end of the visit he gave Bilal the bag with the toothbrush, toothpaste and from the treasure box he gave him a little sand timer so he can (or I can) make sure to brush for the 3 minutes. He also snapped a Polaroid picture of him and Bilal together saying it would help Bilal recognize him and the office and it would help with our follow up visits. That picture ended up in the garbage. I thanked him and got the form, went home and cancelled the 6 month follow up visit that the receptionist had set and decided never to go see him again. Our dental routine was the same after that, he had a toothbrush that he would use occasionally by himself no complaints or battles. A couple years later I really don’t remember what it was that made me decide to pay attention to dental health, his younger brother had fallen a couple of times and bumped his teeth so I called their pediatrician again and asked for another dentist and we went there, the clinic was set up with a large waiting area and a lot of play areas for the kids, all the decor was colorful and child appealing. I felt more comfortable there and the boys did too. The check-up went more smoothly, we got the x-rays done and I didn’t get a lecture only a quick piece of advice. At home I brushed their teeth every night in the bath, it was quick and easy and they had no complaints, it was a part of the bath routine. We went back again for the 6 month follow up and it went even better as the older Bilal gets the more mature and less sensory issues he faces. A cavity was found and he was only given laughing gas, no sedation, no restraints, he did a really good job and the nurses were very friendly and explained everything to him and answered all his questions and they explained the need to floss and he was okay with it after that, so now the flossing has been added to the bath routine with no complaints. At this clinic they get the little bag with the toothbrush and toothpaste but attached to that bag is a helium balloon that they love, and if they had more than a check-up and cleaning they get a little fun toy (not a timer)
So in conclusion yes dental health is important but I believe that it can be taken in a slower pace and also very important is choosing the best dentist and practice, someone who can understand your child’s sensory needs and is patient and friendly enough to have the child enjoy the visit. You’d think a parent of a child with autism would be more understanding but surprisingly it wasn’t for us.