Increasing the dialogue among stakeholders in New Jersey’s special education system

Sometimes, learning happens OUTSIDE of school. In this special edition of Parents’ Perspective, we offer advice on learning to go to the dentist:

young girl afraid of the dentistBy Dr. Christina R. Carter

The thought of seeing a dentist can be overwhelming for both parents and patients, but it does not need to be so. As with everything, setting your child (and you!) up for success is our goal.

  1. Find a Pediatric Dentist who regularly sees special needs patients. Pediatric dentists spend 2-3 years of extra training after dental school learning about growth and development, child psychology and special needs. They create offices that are friendlier to children. Often times, they cater to sensory issues (taste, sound, lights) to make the experience less stressful. It’s similar to seeing a pediatrician instead of your adult internal medicine physician. Find the office that has the right feel for your child. Some offices have therapy dogs on duty. Find the right fit for your family!
  2. The Pediatric Dentist is your friend. Reinforce the dentist is there to help keep your teeth healthy and pretty. It’s not easy being beautiful!
  3. Try not to convey any negative experiences or fear you may have of dentists. While the dentist is not every parent’s favorite experience, it is important to not discuss and transfer those negative thoughts or fears to your child. Remember, children feed off of your energy and cues. Think good thoughts!
  4. Practice opening your mouth and counting to 5. This teaches your child to stay open for short periods of time. Knowing that one may take a rest after 5 is key to alleviating fears. Bring your own toothpaste. If taste is an issue, bringing your own can eliminate that challenge and provide familiarity.
  5. Practice brushing at home. While home hygiene routines can be laborious, the more you are able to brush at home, the easier it will be in the office. In addition, the more you brush at home, the better condition the teeth will be! At home, teach your child “this is what the dentist will do.”
  6. Reinforce there will not be any shots. Nobody enjoys shots, and children always associate doctors and shots. Alleviate the concern and reinforce, “the dentist is an easy visit. Just counting, cleaning and polishing.”
  7. Read books on visits to the dentist and videos. Preparing your child is always helpful so they know what to expect. Fear of the unexpected can be crippling. Bring headphones if music soothes your child. A coping tool is always welcome and decreases stress.
  8. Teach your child that the dentist will show you every step on their finger before doing it. You child will learn what every step looks, sounds and feels like prior to having any work started. Building a trusting relationship between patient and dentist is key.
  9. Prepare the office with a strong medical and behavioral history. Many patients have triggers or sensitivities that make visits more difficult. Be sure to share if a child is light sensitive or taste averse. Pediatric dentists have a “bag of tricks” to accomplish the tasks and want to find the best way to help your child. You know your child best. If an overhead light needs to be off, flavorless toothpaste necessary, or his favorite music needs to be played, we welcome that information to achieve our goal. Your child deserves the best individualized care for his or her needs.
  10. Trust the office. We are your dental home. We want to make things as easy as possible for your child and you. We want your child to succeed. If you are in the right office for your child’s needs, you will know it. Sometimes, children make noise during visits. That’s completely acceptable. Just remember, we are all on the same team.

Never hesitate to contact the office prior to the visit to discuss your child and ask questions. Sometimes, offices welcome a “friendly hello” visit so children can become acclimated to the office without an official treatment visit.

Dentistry has changed tremendously in the short period of time since we were little. Hopefully, the sounds are quieter, the smells are less distinct and the feeling is less overwhelming than we may remember. You should be pleasantly surprised at how easy the visit will be! Just try to maintain as much preventative care as possible so less work is necessary down the road. The best offense is a great defense!

Dr. Christina R. Carter is a board certified Pediatric Dentist and Orthodontist in private practice in Morristown, NJ. She works with her certified therapy dog, Callie and welcomes speaking with parents who have questions about their children’s dental needs and experiences.

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