The short answer is obvious: Yes. Children who show signs of hypersensitivity are often diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. These kids struggle with visits to the dentist’s office most. Realistically, no one likes going to the dentist. Having another human being poking around our mouths with a mirror and a long metal picking tool isn’t fun, and neither is having sensitive or sore gums for the rest of the day. But to kids with SPD, this can be as traumatic as it gets!
Not every dentist is the same, and this is especially true when you start looking for the right one for your child. While a random cosmetic dentist Briarwood might be especially trained, another from Los Angeles might not have any experience with special needs kids at all. Request recommendations from counselors or call dentists in the area and ask if they know what SPD is or how to treat kids who suffer from it.
But preparing your children for the visit starts from home. Prepare to explode your comfort zone! The easiest way to train your kids for the experience is to role play from home. You might even order specialized instruments to get your child accustomed to some of the sensations they will experience when the real thing comes around.
Think of this as both a learning experience and an opportunity to “train” your child how to behave while they are at the dentist’s office. Clarify what the rewards for a good performance will be, and let them know that those rewards won’t come if there is bad behavior. Children should practice lying down with their hands at their sides or on their stomachs. They should attempt to remain still while you role play what the dentist might be doing inside their mouths. Try using a few pillows to prop your child into the right position on a couch.
You might also consider providing your child with a few light videos of what it’s like inside a dentist’s office or what the dentist’s work looks like. This is also a good chance to request a video tour from the dentist who you actually plan to visit. No matter what you do, let the dentist and staff know that your child has special needs when you make the appointment. Don’t spring it on them at the last minute, because untrained or underprepared staff won’t have any idea how to make your child comfortable!
The video might work as only the first step. You might take the child to the dentist beforehand to get the lay of the land. This might feel strange, but many dentists are accustomed to them: they’re called desensitization appointments! During this time, you and your child can meet and converse with staff to ask any questions that haven’t been answered. Familiarity can be the key to a good experience.
Let the dentist know what flavor of toothpaste your child prefers. When the day arrives, be sure to distract your child from what’s happening. Many offices will have a TV for exactly these types of situations, but you can bring a mobile device if they don’t.