Take the Scare Out of Dental Care


Visiting the dentist scares a lot of children and parents’ anxiety can feed that fear. When your child has special needs, you might dread and delay dental appointments. As the mother of three children with autism, I know I did. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can help your child prepare for a positive experience.

Start Out Right

Before problems occur, “come early for a good exam, without any need of work or needles,” advises Steven Yang, DDS, of Matheny Medical and Educational Center in Peapack, NJ. “In the ideal world, practicing for dental care with children before they go for an initial appointment can eliminate fear before it even starts,” says Deb Jastrebski, founder and CEO of Practice Without Pressure in Newark, DE.

Change Course

What if you’ve waited too long or your child has had a bad dental experience? Jastrebski’s son, Marc, has Down  syndrome. When he was 11, she created a “Practice Model” that breaks down medical and dental procedures into small steps, which she rehearses. This preparation enables Marc and other children to cooperate during routine health visits.

Tooth Tips

Get your child’s smile off to a great start with these tips from Andrew Mramor, DDS, of Special Smiles and Lewis Kay, DDS, of Temple University/Episcopal Division, both in Philadelphia.

• Find a dental team that uses explanation and practices techniques such as “tell-show-do.”

• Discuss obstacles such as your child disliking bright lights or crowded rooms before your first visit.

• Discuss calming techniques that might help your child.

• Avoid negative comments about your own dental experiences.

• After your child’s visit, talk positively about the experience. Highlight achievements. Stay optimistic that obstacles can be overcome.

• Ask the dentist to help develop a personal oral hygiene plan for your child.

Previously, “we held Marc down or sedated him for virtually any procedure,” Jastrebski recalls. Now Marc receives dental care with ease. “The difference in him is remarkable,” says his mom.

Choose the Right Provider

Dorothy DiNorcia remembers when dental visits made her son John, who has the genetic disability G Syndrome, squirm in fear. Now he goes into the dentist’s office independently and comes out successfully. She attributes the difference to the style of care at Matheny. “I think it has to do with how they handle him,” she says. “They talked to him. They showed him everything.”

Continuing Care

If your child resists brushing, even swabbing your child’s teeth with a paper towel or a mouth swab after meals will help. “Keep practicing what he’s learned on a daily basis if possible,” Jastrebski says.

Taking care of a disabled child’s teeth doesn’t have to be traumatic. Sometimes all it takes is a skilled provider, a bit of practice and a positive approach.

Stephanie Allen Crist is a freelance writer.


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