blog banner

Helping Special Needs Children Feel Comfortable at the Dentist

April 11, 2024 ABC Children's Dentistry

Taking care of our children’s health, including their dental health, is very important. Visiting the dentist regularly is important for everyone, including children with special needs. However, some special needs children may feel anxious or fearful about visiting the dentist due to sensory sensitivities or communication challenges. As caregivers and parents, there are steps we can take to help accustom special needs children to the dentist and make the experience as positive as possible.

One of the first and most important steps in making special needs children comfortable at the dentist’s office is recognizing that there may be extra steps involved in helping a child overcome his or her anxiety about the dentist.  In order to do this, it may be helpful to follow these steps before, during, and after the scheduled appointment.

Before the Dental Visit:

  1. Preparation is Key. Start preparing the child well in advance for the dental visit. Use social stories, visual schedules, or videos to introduce them to the idea of going to the dentist. This can help reduce anxiety by making the experience more predictable. Any type of visual or audio input that helps your child overcome fear or anxiety in other situations may be adapted to dental visits.
  2. Choose the Right Dentist. Look for a dentist who has experience working with special needs children. They will be more understanding and equipped to provide the necessary accommodations.  The entire dental staff should make your child feel welcome and calm throughout the visit.
  3. Practice Dental Care at Home. Encourage good oral hygiene habits at home. Practice brushing teeth, using a soft toothbrush and mild toothpaste, to help the child become more comfortable with dental care routines.

During the Dental Visit:

  1. Create a Familiar Environment. Bring along comforting items such as a favorite toy or blanket to make the dental office feel more familiar. Familiar sounds or music can also help create a calming atmosphere. Your dental office may also offer music, toys and other items to help calm your child.
  2. Communicate Clearly. Use simple language and clear instructions when talking to your child. Let the dentist know about any communication preferences or challenges the child may have. It is very important to inform the staff of anything that works or does not work with your child so that everyone can understand what to do.
  3. Gradual Exposure. For children who may be more sensitive to sensory experiences, such as the sounds and sensations in a dental office, consider scheduling shorter visits initially to gradually expose them to the environment. If your dentist offers it, allow the child to do a “walk through” leading up to the actual dental visit.

After the Dental Visit:

  1. Positive Reinforcement. Praise the child for their bravery during the dental visit. Positive reinforcement can help them feel proud and more willing to visit the dentist in the future.  Emphasize the fun aspects of the visit to create anticipation for the next one.
  2. Address Any Concerns. Take the time to discuss the dental visit with the child. Listen to their feedback and address any concerns they may have. Reassure them and let them know that their feelings are valid.
  3. Schedule Regular Follow-Ups. To maintain good dental health, schedule regular dental check-ups for the child. Consistency and routine can help establish a sense of normalcy around dental visits.

By taking a patient and understanding approach, we can help special needs children feel more comfortable at the dentist and support them in maintaining good oral health. Every child is unique, so it is important to tailor the experience to their individual needs and preferences.

At ABC Children’s Dentistry, we work with parents and families to create a loving, warm and accepting environment for all children.  We will work with you to ensure your child has a positive experience at our office!