Today we took a trip about an hour away to see a dentist who has a way with children like my daughter. While not a special needs practice, the Newton Sparta Pediatric Dentistry Practice, lead by Dr. Mike is welcoming and a great place to take any children who may be overwhelmed by a trip to the dentist. That being said, as parents, especially of children with additional needs, there are ways we can better prepare our children for a successful visit.
Yesterday night as we flossed my daughters teeth, a tooth broke. Immediately I began to panic. Taking my now seven year old daughter to the dentist has been nothing short of overwhelming so as I mulled over what may happen, I decided I needed a plan of attack.
I was grateful that a wonderful dentist in town suggested calling Dr. Mike and I did so, last night and again first thing when my daughter had difficulty eating. It is so important, as a parent to trust your child’s medical practitioners. When our local dentist suggested that my daughter may need to see a pediatric dentist, I trusted her. Completely. We had experience with Dr. Mike last year as he did surgery on my daughter. While that experience was a challenge for both she and I, the way we were treated by Dr. Mike gave me reassurance that he would do his best to support Seraphina in his office and if we HAD to go to the OR, he was our guy!
In order to make this visit as pain free as it could be, I knew as a parent I needed to do my best to support her for her own success and our dentist so he could do his job.
Here are a few tips to make your child’s dental visit a success:
First, talk. Verbal or not, children need to know. I have learned with my other kids that when they are surprised at medical visits its upsetting. I told Seraphina exactly why we were going to the dentist and reminded her that the dentist was there to help her. In our conversation, I talked about how dentists help others and that even though they are Community Helpers, it is okay to have feelings surrounding trips to the doctor or dentist but no matter what I would be with her and she would be safe. For many kids, anxiety can manifest in behaviors that can limit the care a child can receive in office. If you have more time, you may consider creating a social story to share with your child to talk about our visit.
Next, we watched a couple videos online about dentists helping children. This supported the narrative that dentists are there to help and safe and allowed her to visibly see children being helped by dentists, even if the dentist wasn’t our own.
Then Seraphina and I planned it out. Together.
The plan consisted of talking about the type of behavior we wanted to have, what she may experience and what she could expect after the visit. For Seraphina, anxiety can be a trigger and when she feels anxious aggressive behaviors can follow so an action plan with a reward at the end made her feel more confident in the visit. We also checked out the website of the office online so she knew exactly what she would see, including the photo of the dentist who would be taking care of her.
When we talked rewards, she immediately knew she wanted a Blue’s Clue’s Toy and remembered it was at Target. I found a picture of the toy, printed it out photo, laminated it and cut it out to a size that was comfortable so she could hold it, easily reminding her what she was working for.
Right before we left, I made sure she used the bathroom in a comfortable space and was in comfortable clothing. I also packed a basket of items that may bring her comfort. Inside I had a weighted lap pad, a few small trinkets to keep her hands busy, a body sack, the picture of the toy and a couple small trinkets she could earn in a pinch.
When we arrived at the dentist, I waited until it was almost time for our appointment, looking like Red Riding Hood we stepped out of the car and headed to the office. I reminded her of what would happen and how we would behave and of course what she could earn. Lucky for me, the office was on time. Waiting until it was almost the appointment time gave her enough time to explore the office but not too much time that she may feel anxious.
Once inside, it was apparent the assistant they selected for us was kind, understanding and supportive. She even told me it was okay NOT to show her the broken tooth so that we could save Seraphina’s energy for the doctor. I let the doctor and assistant know what we were working for and all the medications she was on. The dentist used his own knowledge of Blue’s Clues and between the three of us we knew we had a mission and we were in it together. For me, being supportive of the medical professionals working is yet another key component to success so being their extra hands is one way to ensure a better experience. My job, as a parent, was to keep Seraphina calm. I held her hands so that she felt safe and supported. She rested comfortably with her lap pad and indicted that she was going to “take a nap”.
About fifteen minutes after we walked into the office, we were done. That tooth that had been a bother was successful filled and both Seraphina and I felt better for it. As we headed out the door and onto our “shopping trip” as Seraphina called it, I felt sincere joy that we worked with a dedicated and supportive team to achieve her best results.So the next time you head to a visit at a dentist or doctor with your child, set yourself up for success.
- Talk About It
- Visualize It
- Make a Plan, Including the Positive End Results
- Pack for Success, Include Items That Will Make Your Child More Comfortable
- Arrive JUST on Time, Not Too Early and NOT Late, Rushing Never Made Anyone Feel Good
- Be Supportive of Your Practitioner
- Follow Through With The Reward