Going to the dentist can be uncomfortable and scary for anyone, especially for a child with autism or other special needs. There are many different sounds, sights, and smells in a dentist office that can cause a child great difficulty. The sound of dental equipment, bright lights, and strangers hovering in close proximity could cause your child to panic, shut down, or run from the dental chair. For many parents, autism and dental care don’t seem to mix, and a routine dental appointment can be emotionally wrenching for both the child and the parent.
However, your child’s experience at the dentist does not have to be a bad one. The pediatric dentists and orthodontic specialists at Alameda Pediatric Dentistry are ready, willing, and able to help. We have a broad range of options, including desensitization visits or conscious sedation that can help make your dental appointments less stressful.
It’s also important to know that dentists don’t generally receive training in sedation during standard dentistry education. At Alameda Pediatric Dentistry, our dentists and staff have completed additional training with a focus on working with autistic and special needs children, as well as using protective stabilization, sedation, or general anesthesia.
With some patience and understanding, many children with autism can sit through a regular dental visit without sedation. This usually involves gently guiding the child through the procedures and using positive reinforcement.
Protective stabilization is an option when the child can’t be persuaded to sit still in the dental chair. This is to ensure safety for both the patient and the dental staff. This can be as simple as having a parent, caregiver or dental assistant hold the child’s hands. If this isn’t effective, we might use wraps to help stabilize the child’s arms and legs.
Inhaled through a nose mask, nitrous oxide is a generally safe anti-anxiety anesthetic. The child breathes through the nose until the dental procedure is complete. For some, it can cause nausea, though this rarely lasts for more than a few minutes after the appointment.
Conscious sedation involves the use of sedatives to produce a calm, drowsy state without the loss of consciousness. During conscious sedation, one of our trained assistants will carefully and continually monitor your child’s vital signs throughout the procedure. The sedative is given in a liquid form about an hour before the procedure. In addition, we use protective stabilization and nitrous oxide during the procedure.
General anesthesia, which involves the loss of consciousness, is our last choice for children who don’t respond to any of the other options. General anesthesia will be administered by a medical anesthesiologist at our office or in one the hospitals we are on staff at UCF Benioff Children’s hospital or Kaiser Oakland. General anesthesia brings a number of health risks, so we normally don’t recommend this for dental cleanings or other routine procedures.
We urge you not to delay a visit if you’re concerned with how your child may react. We welcome all children in our office and have created a comfortable environment for them to call their dental home.
We reserve quieter times for patients who thrive with a less stimulating environment and have private rooms with dim lights to create a calmer atmosphere. We carry several tactile and sensory toys to help alleviate anxiety and provide a safe space for our patients to get used to coming for their check-ups. If we feel it’s best to use some form of sedation, we will thoroughly explain that to you at your visit or pre-visit. We’ll work together with you to find solutions that will keep your child calm and comfortable.
If you are interested in learning about desensitization visits, sedation dentistry, or would like more information about how we can make your child’s visits as seamless as possible, please give us a call!