Say “Aah” Successful Trips to the Dentist
Successful Trips to the Dentist
It is estimated that approximately 20% of adults fear dental treatment to the point that they put off necessary visits. Children with disabilities may be even more prone to experience dental anxiety due to strangeness of environment and discomfort of the procedures. If appropriate oral hygiene is neglected, children may experience ongoing pain, lasting damage to their teeth and gums, and poor diet as their food options are restricted.
This may escalate the children’s behavior problems and produce significant stress for their parents. Because of the severity of children’s resistance to treatment, parents frequently resort to sedation for simple
procedures (e.g., cleanings), posing additional health risks and increased cost for treatment. Without successful strategies, these patterns can escalate over time. We offer the following suggestions for making dental visits more positive and increasing children’s cooperation.
Know What to Expect
Before making an appointment, visit the office and talk to the dentist or staff about your child’s needs. Note the characteristics of the waiting and examination rooms and learn about routines and procedures your child may undergo. If possible, observe these. Specific questions you might consider include:
- With what items or objects might your child interact?
- With whom your child might interact (e.g., the receptionist, the oral hygienist, the dentist)?
- What procedures are likely (e.g., will the visit include just a physical exam and cleaning or will x-rays, fluoride or other procedures be performed?
Inform the dentist of your child’s anticipated reactions given his/her history with dental or medical situations or related experiences and discuss any modifications the dental staff might be willing to make (e.g., a few five minute visits to the office to sit in the chair or allowing your child to watch you during a dental exam, items you would be allowed to bring) to make your child more comfortable. Ask if any of the tools that are typically used (e.g., dental bib, clips, bite blocks) are available for practice at home. Recognize other ways you might prepare your child for the experience (e.g., using an electric toothbrush at home or playing dentist with a dental mirror).
Prepare for the Visit
Many challenges associated with going to the dentist can be avoided or minimized through careful planning and advanced preparation. If possible, you should take your child to the office prior to their scheduled appointment to see the environment, meet the staff, and possibly observe procedures (e.g., while you or a sibling are undergoing them). During that visit, you may be able to identify additional triggers and strategies that could help. If that cannot occur, you can use the information you obtained from the dentist’s office to prepare your child in other ways. If your child is experiencing pain or going to undergo an uncomfortable experience, talk with your dentist in advance about possible adaptations to procedures (e.g., smaller bite blocks) and/or pain management. Help your child understand the value of oral hygiene and problems associated with neglect by sharing stories and pictures. Make brushing and flossing teeth part of your normal routine so your child becomes accustomed to these activities. Limit foods that may cause additional dental problems (e.g., sodas, candy).
Prepare your child for the visit using social stories, communicating with your child at a level he/she understands. Your story can include every step that will occur during the appointment, what your child will be expected to do, what help you and the dental staff will offer, and what will occur if the visit is successful. Bring enjoyable items and activities that can serve as a distraction such as electronic devices, headphones, toys, a blanket, bubbles, and other items allowed by the dentist. Steps such as these may make the dental experience more positive.
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