Create a Sensory-Friendly Dentist Visit for Your Child

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Going to the dentist can be stressful for everyone. Especially for children. The noises, bright overhead lights, and the vibration of dental equipment are overwhelming. As a result, your child may experience sensory overload. However, you can change a few things to create a sensory-friendly dentist visit for your child.

How Do I Get My Sensitive Child to the Dentist?

Some parents don’t know how to introduce going to the dentist with their child. This is especially true if your child experiences sensory sensitivity or sensory overload. Therefore, it is helpful to prepare your child for a visit to the dentist in advance.

Infographic describing 4 ways to create a sensory-friendly dentist appointment.

1. Create expectations

Creating expectations about the dentist beforehand is important. It will help create a a sensory-friendly dentist visit for your child.

Talk about going to the dentist.

  • It is important to keep letting your child know what to expect. Last-minute changes and new things cause stress and anxiety. Talk about going to the dentist with your child. Talk about going to the dentist when you go. Or when other family members go to the dentist. Tell stories about your visit. Describe the visit to your child. There are also books about going to the dentist you can read to your child. These tips help your child anticipate what to expect and avoid surprises.

Practice and pretend through play.

  • An effective way to help your child feel more comfortable about the dentist is by acting out what will happen. Put on a “going to the dentist” play with puppets. Or, for example with their toys as characters. You can also role-play with your child. This, too, will help your child create expectations. For example, have your child pretend to lay down in a dentist’s chair. Let them be the dentist or dental hygienist too! Take turns being the patient and being the dentist or dental hygienist.
Girl in dentist chair with hand over face experiencing sensory overload.

2. Bring a sensory-friendly kit

Another way to help your child have a sensory-friendly dentist visit is by creating a sensory kit. A sensory kit can include:

Sunglasses.

  • Although many dentists provide sunglasses for patients, it can be helpful to bring your own. Especially if you have child-sized sunglasses that fit your child. The bright lights overhead that let the dentist or dental hygienist see into your mouth can be bothersome.

Sensory-friendly toys.

  • This includes things like fidget spinners, textured balls or silly putty. This can help to keep your child engaged and entertained during the appointment. Give little hands something to do!

Earmuffs.

  • Oftentimes, going to the dentist is a noisy experience. The loud sounds of the cleaning equipment can be very overwhelming for someone with sensory sensitivities. Therefore, it is recommended to bring noise-cancelling earmuffs to the dentist. This helps to block out the sounds. Alternatively, bring music for your child to listen to.

Weighted lap pads.

  • Sensory tools like a weighted lap pad help children feel calmer. A little bit of weight can be calming. And prevent sensory overload. They also give little hands something to hold or knead, i.e., something to do.

Check back soon for our Sensory Friendly Solutions’ Kit just for going to the dentist.

3. Plan a bio-break

Did you know that being hungry or thirsty can lead to sensory overload? Being hungry or thirsty makes the body less able to manage other senses. An easy way to ensure a sensory-friendly dentist visit is to bring water and snacks. If your child is thirsty or hungry they are more likely to feel agitated and stressed.

Another important thing is to make sure your child has used the bathroom. Therefore, plan ahead so you have enough time for your child to go to the bathroom before having to sit in the dental chair for a period of time.

4. Look for a sensory-friendly dentist

As sensory-friendly changes become more common, many healthcare professionals are creating sensory-friendly offices. Changes at dental clinics make include:

  • Adjusted lighting (eg. covers for fluorescent lights).
  • Noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Shaded/eye-masks/sunglasses.
  • Different flavours of treatments.
  • Scent-free products.
  • Special staff training.

Next time you go to the dentist, create sensory-friendly appointment for your child!

Some dentists who really care about their patient care likely already make these types of sensory-friendly changes. For instance, Dr. Peggy Bown helps parents create a sensory-friendly dentist visit at her practice. Therefore, look for dentists who make these types of changes.

Dr. Bown hosted an episode on her YouTube channel sharing her sensory-friendly dentist visit tips.

Going to the dentist can be especially challenging for an autistic child. Tips specifically for parents of children with autism can help too!

Illustration of group of people. Ages ranges from babies to seniors. Some people are in wheelchair or scooter, pushing a baby stroller, have a prostetic limb or wear a hijab. All designed in a blue and orange colour pallet.

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