AUTISM AWARENESS: Help a Child with Special Needs at the Dentist
Dr. Greg Grillo speaks about Autism

Dental Care By Dr. Greg Grillo

Many people feel anxiety when it comes to going to the dentist. However, for children with special needs like autism spectrum disorder, the unfamiliar environment of a dental office can make going to the dentist much more difficult. I have been practicing family dentistry for 17 years and it is my goal to ensure that a patient is as comfortable as possible during their visit.

I wanted to highlight some ways to help children and patients with autism at the dentist. Here is a list of tips that my patients have used in the past to have successful dental appointments.

1. Ask Questions

Talking to your child’s dentist and asking questions that you may have is essential to the success of your child’s dental appointment. Some common questions that parents ask are:

    – Do you have any specialized training for caring with patients with special needs?

    – What accommodations can be made for my child?

    – Do you have any videos or books to help prepare for my child’s appointment?

These are just a few questions to get you started, but no question is a bad one, so ask your dentist anything that may be on your mind. Remember, that as a parent, you are in control of your child’s dentist appointment at all times. If at any time you feel uncomfortable or can sense your child becoming too overwhelmed, speak up.

2. Schedule Familiarization Appointments

Familiarization or desensitization appointments are scheduled prior to an actual dental appointment and are a great way for children with special needs like autism to see the dental office and meet the office and staff members. If your child struggles with sensory elements, scheduling one of these appointments could be very beneficial.

Most dentists are more than willing to schedule these as it’s their goal to ensure the comfort of their patients. Your child will be able to become familiar with this new environment before any work is done on their teeth. This will make it easier for them on the day of their actual appointment as they will have an idea of what to expect and recognize the staff members. Use Visuals and Social Stories

Visuals can be used in a number of ways to help overcome sensory issues at the dentist. They can be used while preparing for your child’s dental appointment and at the appointment itself. Before the visit, you can create social stories about a dentist appointment that can allow your child to see what it may be like. You can also look up photos of your dentist and their office online which is another way for your child to make that visual connection of what the dentist appointment will be like.

Using visuals during your child’s appointment can be a great tool too. If your child has a favorite movie or TV show, consider bringing an iPad or portable DVD player to their visit to help distract them from what is happening in their math. Likewise, a favorite toy or fidget item can help be a great distraction from the work that the dentist is doing.

4. Reduce Wait Times

If your child is feeling anxious about the dentist, it’s important to reduce their time having to sit in the waiting room before their appointment. When you schedule their visit, schedule it at a time that is best for your child whether it be in the morning or afternoon. Talk to your dentist and their staff members ahead of time to see if your child can get their appointment started right away. If there is going to be any wait time, ask if your child can wait in the car. This can help ease some anxieties surrounded around their dental visit. Dentists are good about making accommodations unique to a child’s needs to feel free to ask for whatever will be best for your child.

5. Establish Dental Care Routines

Having a good dental care routine at home will help make your child’s dental appointment easier. Your child should be brushing and flossing every single day. This is a great way for them to become familiar with the feeling of toothbrushes and it’s an opportunity for you to teach them of the importance of dental care. Brushing and flossing can be a fun thing that you and your child can do together as it begins to become a habit in your child’s life. Another great way to practice good dental care is by eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. This is a great way for your child to try new foods and find ones that they enjoy best. the dentist office can be an overwhelming place with a lot of unfamiliar sensory elements, there are many ways you can work to make going to the dentist a positive experience Your dentist will be more than willing to work alongside you and your child to make them as comfortable as possible. Embrace the learning experience of taking your child to the dentist and while it may be challenging at first, successful dental visits are possible so never give up.

Dr. Greg Grillo, D.D.S., is the dental expert at Dentably, a website that answers concerns about special needs dentistry. You can find out more at or


SGNScoops Magazine April 2019
SGNScoops Magazine April 2019

By Dr. Greg Grillo, special to the SGNScoops Magazine. First published April 2019.

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