Preparing for the First Dental Appointment


oral-health-care-strategies-for-autism_clip_image002Information in this article was made available from a guide for parents and dental providers of children with special needs developed by the Oklahoma Dental Foundation in partnership with several funders.  The entire guide is available for download at: Oral Health Care For Children With Special Health Care Needs.

The following is an excerpt from page 6 of the guide.

Set a pre-appointment interview.

Providers can send copies of initial visit paperwork to the family member/caregiver to fill out before the first appointment. This will help gather all the needed information, but will also avoid completing this task in the waiting area with an anxious child. Fill out the “Checklist for Going to the Dentist” in this guide. Use this checklist, along with medical history records, to give the dentist the most complete picture of the child’s conditions and/or behavioral issues. Be sure and discuss any concerns that you have before the first appointment.

oral-health-care-strategies-for-autism_clip_image004Sometimes the dentist will need to consult with the child’s primary care physician before starting dental treatment.

This is especially true if the child has underlying medical conditions affecting the heart, lungs or other internal systems. In some cases a course of antibiotics may need to be taken before dental visits. Consultation may be necessary when the child is taking medications or if the child has a history of allergies to latex or drugs. If the child sees many specialists, a list of doctors and/or therapists with contact information should also be included with the initial paperwork.

oral-health-care-strategies-for-autism_clip_image006Set goals for this first appointment.

In the case of children with severe anxiety, combative behavior and/or aversions, success on the first visit may simply be arriving to the dental office, meeting the dentist and perhaps sitting in the dental chair. Be prepared to make several appointments to give the child time to become familiar with oral care. Forcing children to comply, will only delay, and in some cases destroy, trust building efforts and can negatively affect their ability to receive good oral care now and later in life. Keep a logbook of what works and what does not, including preferences and comfort items.

oral-health-care-strategies-for-autism_clip_image008Desensitize the child at home so oral care seems like a normal part of life.

Talk about going to the dentist and show them what the dentist will do. Play dental office with children who can understand and let them switch between being the patient and being the dentist.

Lap to lap positioning is the most common way of providing oral care for small children. In this position, a family member/caregiver holds the child facing them and then lays the child backwards across their legs with their head cradled in the lap of the dentist. This can be practiced at home so the child will be accepting of this position later. The same is true for older children, or those who use a wheelchair. They can be sat in a reclining position to “practice” dental treatment. Picture books or homemade experience books are also an excellent way to help a child understand what will happen once they get to the dentist.

Related Information:
Dental Visit Social Story
Oral Health Care Basics for Kids with Special Needs