Dental Care for Kids with Special Needs

Regular dental checkups are important and necessary, and for some, they can be anxiety-provoking.

This can be especially true for children with special needs. 

Board-certified pediatric dentist Dr. Lauren S. Weddell, with Weddell Pediatric Dental Specialists in Carmel, offers parents some valuable information on how to prepare for the inevitable trip to the dentist’s office, to hopefully make it a pleasant experience for all involved. 

What should parents look for when searching for a dentist for their child?  

I would recommend a board-certified pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists spend at least an additional 24 months of education to specialize in oral health care for children, including those with special healthcare needs. To find a board-certified pediatric dentist, visit the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry’s website.

While there is a required standard to ensure dental schools educate their students on the treatment of patients with special health care needs, not all dentists receive the same experience or amount of education. Discuss your child’s special needs and ask any questions you may have with the office when scheduling to ensure the office is the right fit for you and your child. 

How can parents prepare their child for a trip to the dentist?  

Depending on the anxiety and cognitive ability of your child, you can discuss what may happen during the dental visit, watch videos or read books about visiting the dentist that reinforce the dentist is there to make sure you are healthy and that you have a happy smile. If your child is extremely anxious, it may be best to limit discussions so as not to increase anxiety.  

Any discussions should always be positive. Avoid using negative words such as “hurt,” “pain,” or “afraid.” Even saying “It won’t hurt” can put the idea of hurt in a child’s head. Remember that your anxiety level can affect that of your child. You can ask to have a tour of the office prior to the first visit to introduce your child to the office. 

Practicing a consistent oral hygiene routine with parental help at home will help acclimate a child to having their teeth inspected and brushed by others. Always give positive reinforcement following brushing. For some parents, we recommend an electric toothbrush to help the child get used to the sensation, sound and vibration that is like what may be used at the office. You may also want to discuss the dental chair and how it moves, or practice lying down and having your child open their mouth for someone else to see inside. 

How can parents help a child with sensory issues have a positive visit to the dentist 

Inform the dentist and staff of any sensory issues which may require modification of the traditional delivery of dental care. You know your child better than we do. Let us know what their typical oral hygiene routine is, and what methods do and don’t work at home 

Does your child have a therapist? Sometimes the therapist will attend the dental appointment to help us see their usual routine. Is your child aversive to flavors? Consider bringing their toothbrush and toothpaste from home. Is there is a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket? If so, you may want to bring that to the appointment for comfort.  

Consistency and repetition of oral hygiene measures can help with some sensory issues. Counting can be very successful. Patience goes a long way. Every child is unique, and sometimes multiple visits are needed to desensitize your child to the dental experience. Be open to what the dentist may suggest, but also give us your input. Allow the dentist to establish rapport with your child. If you feel like the dentist isn’t the right fit, let them help you to find another dentist.

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