Being a dentist is hard. Being a dentist for people with special needs it’s something that should be recognized more as they are the unsung heroes of our time. If you or your child suffers from SPD and are visiting the dentist, this is a guide on how to make the experience more pleasant for you or your child and for your dentist.

As we have established – there are two ways people with SPD can respond to stimuli – by over-responding (an extreme reaction) or under-reaction (becoming withdrawn).

Here are some typical reactions that children or adults that have SPD might have while visiting the dentist:

  1. Overreaction and hiding from unannounced touch (particularly the face)
  2. Extreme sensitivity to cleaning of the teeth by the hygienist
  3. Squirming in the dental chair due to fear
  4. Sensitivity to the light above their head
  5. Fear responses to the sounds of the dental equipment
  6. Intense dislike of polishing paste because of the texture
  7. Extreme gag reflex from dental equipment nad x-rays
  8. Inappropriate responses to the smell or feel of the latex gloves

In some cases, these fear responses might escalate to something more physical if the fear is not immediately addressed by the dentist or hygienist. Think of it as a reenactment of flight or fight. When scared the child will try to flee if they cannot they will be violent to escape their perceived danger. Also keep in mind, a child might be able to handle one stimulus but when multiple perceived threats are added it becomes too much for them to handle. Adults, on the other hand, might just simply avoid going to the dentist all together which can lead to long-term health care issues. They will continue to avoid the dentist even if they know of its ramifications.

There are two strategies when it comes to helping children when they are having sensory defensiveness – deep touch and heavy work. Here are some ways to implement them prior to visiting the dentist and during the appointment to help things run smoothly.

  1. Have the child wear the X-Ray vest during the appointment
  2. Parents should introduce the child to an electric toothbrush prior to the appointment for vibration and sound exposure
  3. Fidget toys to distract them during the appointment
  4. Communicate with the child and explain the procedures as they are happening
  5. Wear a hat to help block the light above the chair if the child is sensitive to lights
  6. Noise canceling headphones

All of these tips can work for adults too. The key is finding a dental professional who will work with you or your child and find a way to provide you with the dental care that you need to live a long healthy life.