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Get Your Child With Sensory Sensitivity to Enjoy Oral Care

Smiling kid with butterfly on her nose
Having a child with sensory sensitivity (whether related to autism or as its own sensory processing disorder, or SPD) means you have to meet the unique needs of your child every day.

Some children are sensory seekers, eager to feel, touch, taste, and interact with the world in ways that you can hardly keep up with. Others are sensory avoiders, trying their hardest to avoid the same things that don't bother you at all, including textures, sounds, and being touched.

Taking a child with sensory sensitivity to the dentist can be daunting: the experience is brand-new, the vibrating tools can be scary, and even the bright lights in a dental exam room can send your child into a meltdown.

Here are tips to help your child with SPD enjoy oral care, both at home and at the dentist.

Let Your Child Be in Control 

What makes sensory processing disorder so difficult for children is the lack of control your child feels over the world around them. Your child has to process the thousands of pieces of information and sensory input in their brains in a way that is different from your mind's filtering, which makes nearly every task daunting or overwhelming (no matter how your child approaches everyday tasks).

Your child should be in control of their oral health care routine as much as possible, from choosing their toothbrush to selecting the time of day they brush their teeth.

Sensory seekers may appreciate an electric toothbrush, while sensory avoiders will likely prefer a softbristled or silicone-bristled toothbrush. Non-flavored toothpaste is ideal for children with SPD as many children with the disorder are texture or taste sensitive.

Transitioning from one task to another is difficult for most children with sensory processing disorder. To make teeth brushing easier for your child, create a routine and adhere to it.

Invest in a timer to set for morning and evening brushing time, and allow your child to brush their teeth with the timer within view. Timers are commonly used in occupational therapy rooms to help children stay focused and on task and are beneficial for home use.

If your child has sensory processing disorder and is largely nonverbal, use picture cards to let them know when it's time to brush their teeth. Your child can communicate via the cards when they are ready to rinse, spit, and put away their toothbrush.

Prepare for the Dental Visit

A traditional dentist may not understand your child's special needs, so choose a pediatric dentist with experience working with patients who have SPD and autism spectrum disorder.

Your dentist will be patient with your child, showing them each tool prior to using the instrument and will take special measures to make all dental procedures easier for your child. For instance, they might dim the lights, provide music, or allow the use of headphones if necessary.

To make the dental visit less daunting, take your child to a library, park, or even a pet store beforehand to allow them to get their energy out (use your child's favorite locations outside the home for inspiration). 

For many children, the fear of the dentist is enough to encourage a meltdown, which in children with SPD can be very severe and disrupt dental procedures. A distraction prior to the dental visit can keep meltdowns at bay by giving your child needed sensory input.

The dentist - and oral health care in general - can be daunting for any child but is more unnerving for children with sensory processing issues and special needs. Our team of dental practitioners understand the needs of your child and will make their dental experiences as comfortable as possible. Call Bay Pediatric Dentistry to make an appointment with our staff today.