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Taking the Fear Out of Dental Visits for Children With Special Needs

June 09, 2022 ABC Children's Dentistry

Every parent knows that trips to the dentist can be fraught with fear and anxiety, but for parents of children with special needs, this problem may be magnified.  Depending on the cause of the fear, children with special needs may find a visit to the dentist completely overwhelming or too frightening to continue.  Of course, parents of special needs children also want their children to have good dental health, so it is important for them to consider ways to make the dentist’s office a non-threatening space.

This often begins by working with the staff to create the right environment.  There are several ways parents can be proactive in helping their special needs child acclimate to the dentist’s office and perhaps even look forward to their visits.

  • Be aware of specific triggers and communicate them to the staff. Some children are uncomfortable with sharp objects such as picks, and may react negatively.  One way to help mitigate this problem is to talk with the child in comforting terms about what is going to happen so that he or she will be prepared.  Additionally, the staff at the dentist’s office should know that these objects might be triggers for a child so that they can adjust accordingly.
  • Ask the staff to create a comforting atmosphere. Dentist’s offices, like most doctors, are filled with bright lights and scary sounds.  By informing the staff that these things might bother your child, they may be able to reduce some of the light and noise, making the atmosphere more comfortable.
  • Begin gradually. It may not be the best plan to jump right in to a cleaning or filling.  Instead, plan to bring the child on a day when there is no work scheduled and let him or her meet the staff, become comfortable, and enjoy a treat.  This will set up the next visit to be far less threatening.
  • Keep visits short. If your child struggles with sitting still for long periods of time, ask if you can divide a visit into two sessions.  This can help your child overcome fear and still feel comfortable throughout the visit.  A shorter visit will feel much more manageable for both patient and parents.
  • Bring comfort from home. Talk to your staff about items that your child finds special comfort in, such as a stuffed animal or blanket.  Most dentists are happy for children to bring their own comfort items from home and will be sure to keep them close by during the visit.
  • Ask about alternative treatments. There are many treatments available to reduce fear and anxiety.  Of course, not all treatments are appropriate for all patients, so have a conversation with your dentist about options for your child.

At ABC Children’s Dentistry, we pride ourselves on working with parents to make a visit to our office a pleasant experience for all children.  Give us a call today to learn more about options for your child!