Dr. Greg Grillo (dentably.com)
Going to the dentist can be overwhelming for anyone. However, in patients with autism, the sensory elements of the dentist can make it much more difficult.
One way to help a patient relax during their appointment is with dental sedation, but it’s important to know the different types before choosing this for a patient. As a practicing dentist for 17 years, I know just how stressful this can be for parents, and how frightening the whole process can be for the child. That’s why I’ve compiled information about everything you need to know before choosing dental sedation for a patient or child with autism.
Choosing a Sedation Method
There are several other sedation methods that your dentist may offer. Talk to them about which method will be best for your child or loved one.
Here are the three most common sedation methods that are used for dental care:
Conscious Sedation: A minimal type of sedation, it allows the patient to maintain consciousness and control during the procedure. Children with autism have widely different responses to this type of sedation, so it’s important to monitor them throughout the procedure. It also has some potential health risks if done incorrectly, so only specially trained dentists should perform this type of sedation.
Deep Sedation: This is a bit more powerful than conscious sedation and may render the patient unable to respond or control certain reflexes. This is similar to conscious sedation but used when less lucidness is required from the patient or for more involved procedures.
General Anesthesia: What most people think of when picturing dental sedation, this type will render the patient unconscious and unable to respond or control their bodies during the procedure. This is a powerful sedation method, so is likely only to be used for major dental work, or if the patient has responded extremely poorly to other options.
Your dentist will give you which options are available based on the procedure and will typically urge you towards the least potent. This can help your child by maintaining the measure of control they have during the procedure, as well as making the recovery quicker and easier to understand. Dentists are also always happy to answer questions, if you have concerns over the procedure speak up.
Prepare for the Visit
The most important step to making any dental process go smoothly for an autistic child is to properly prepare them. Helping your child understand what to expect can ease feelings of anxiety and make it a bit easier to digest. Make sure to explain to them what’s going to happen, why it’s important, and emphasize any positive rewards to look forward to.
The Tell/Show/Do method is a great way to keep your child at ease through the whole procedure. Start by telling them what’s going to happen and what the dentists needs to do. Then show them with a brief demonstration how it’s done and the tool used for it. Finally, the procedure will be done. This method helps keep the child engaged and calm as they know exactly what is going to happen.
Good preparation is key, but what entails is going to largely depend on your child. Everyone with autism is a little bit different and has different reactions to stimuli and different ways they express their discomfort. Take some time pre-visit to discuss this with your dentist and they will be happy to work with you to make your child’s visit go as smoothly as possible.
How long it takes to recover is largely based on the type of sedation used. Keep this in mind as it’s usually better to give your child a definite answer, 40 minutes for example instead of a while. This is important as the recovery process may be new for your child, and they will not be used to the effects that the sedative has on their bodies.
It’s also important to monitor them during the recovery process for any adverse side effects. In general, you’ll be asked to remain at the dentist until they are confident no such reaction will be experienced.
Making Your Dental Visit a Success
Overall, the key to a successful visit is to plan and prepare, and make sure your child understands what is about to happen. As a dentist, I always do my best to put the child at ease and explain everything I’m about to do, but the prep should begin at home. Remember that dental sedation can be beneficial for a patient to receive the care they need.
Children living with autism are capable of having great dental experiences with patience and hard work. Never give up on your child’s dental health and enjoy the learning process together.