Different daily activities can sometimes be a challenge with a special needs child, and visiting the dentist is no exception. The dentist may seem uniquely stressful, and the tools and environment of a dentist's office can be intimidating, and even upsetting. Fortunately, many dentists are experienced working with special needs children and maybe uniquely prepared for challenges that can arise in practicing effective oral health. Consequently, they will be willing to engage in the communication that may be necessary to ensure special needs children are comfortable at the dentist.
Ultimately, pediatric dentistry for children with special needs is, in many respects, the same as it would be for other children. Oral health is still paramount, and many aspects of the approach are universal.
All children benefit from getting an early start on visits to the dentist. In most cases, it is recommended that a child visit a pediatric dentist as soon as his or her first tooth appears, or at least by age one. While some parents are understandably nervous about bringing such a small child to the dentist, that early start can make all the difference in terms of proactive oral health.
These concerns may be particularly acute with special needs children, but the urgency of getting an early start at the dentist is still pronounced. This is all the more true because promoting good oral health early can make a real difference. Indeed, while some developmental aspects of raising a child with special needs are especially challenging, good oral health is very possible with the right approach. This is most true when started early with an experienced and communicative dentist that you and your family trust.
Special needs children may need more accommodations than other children in regularly practicing good oral health, including special accommodations when brushing, flossing, and rinsing. Some children may have a need for special tools — like toothbrushes with adaptive aids — or may require added practice brushing teeth to develop competency. For some special needs children, these routine practices can be more intimidating or stressful. This is all the more reason to ensure they get started early, so sufficient practice can be developed over time.
Understandably, many parents are concerned about finding a dentist who can be appropriately communicative with special needs children. Fortunately, pediatric dentistry for children with special needs is well within the skill set of many pediatric dentists. Pediatric dentists are required to undergo special training that allows for effective working with children — and in particular, managing anxiety around visits the dentist — making them uniquely capable of working with special needs children.
Naturally, some pediatric dentists are more well-versed in dealing with special needs children than others, making it essential you find a dentist you can work with early. It is a good idea to look around for a dentist prior to your child's first visit. Once you have found a dentist you are comfortable with, it may be particularly helpful to have a conversation about your child's unique special needs, and how they can best be addressed and accommodated in a dentistry setting. That way, you can both be prepared for what that first visit will look like.
Trips to the dentist can often be nerve-wracking for all types of children, and for children with special needs, this may be especially true. The dentist can seem frightening, intimidating, and especially foreign.
It may be helpful to develop calming routines with your special needs child around dentist visits. Once they are old enough to understand the nature of dental visits, this may include regular practices to help ensure they are comfortable during those trips. If necessary, it may involve meetings between yourself, your child, and your dentist to help ensure everyone is on the same page.