It happens every six months like clockwork. We take the dreaded trip to the dentist. Let’s be honest. There are not many people who actually look forward to their semi-annual dental check-up. The scraping. The buzzing. The shining light. Going to the dentist is a sensory nightmare for most, let alone someone who is on the autism spectrum.
We started taking Debbie to the dentist when she was about six years old. I probably should have taken her sooner. But somehow I knew that taking her would not be easy, so I procrastinated as long as I possibly could. When the time came, we took her to our family dentist. He treated Joey, so why not treat Debbie, too? However, he recommended that we take her to a pediatric dentist who would be able to accommodate her needs. Dr. L. was polite and honest. The fact of the matter was he did not have the training or experience to treat patients of varying abilities. Instead of creating a miserable situation for all of us, he suggested we take Debbie to a pediatric dentist who specialized in treating kids on the spectrum. I did some research, and we had our appointment six months later.
We lasted at this practice for about a year. Going to this dentist became a huge ordeal for us as a family. Debbie had to be in a separate room because she would cry and scream. She also had to be held down by Vince and me so she could have her teeth brushed with an ordinary toothbrush. It was horrible for Debbie, heartbreaking for us, and embarrassing for Joey. Although the visits slowly became better for Debbie as she acclimated to the routine, we didn’t feel this dental practice was the right fit. We rarely saw the same dentist or hygienist, and many of the staff felt uncomfortable when working with Debbie. Eventually, I became tired of hearing that she wasn’t ready for the electric toothbrush even though she used one at home. I also grew tired of hearing she had to be in a separate room, just in case she became upset. The private room was their answer to treating children with special needs. I had had enough and did what I always do when I hear the word “no” – I left and went somewhere else.
The next dental practice we tried was okay. It was very small, with only one dentist and a few hygienists. The dentist was recommended to me because he had experience working with children of all abilities. Because Dr. M. was the sole dentist, the kids always knew whom they were going to see. Additionally, most of the staff seemed comfortable working with Debbie. In an effort to instill independence in kids while at the dentist, their philosophy was that the parents remain in the waiting room during the visit. But there was a downside to that. While Joey was fine, Debbie was very unhappy about having to leave me.
She had to be held down by two people on her first visit. After the first visit, though, she was fine and her visits continued to improve. However, Dr. M. moved very slowly with Debbie. He was not willing to do anything beyond brushing her teeth with an electric toothbrush. Every time I brought up trying a new procedure, I heard, “She’s not ready.” I felt I needed a practice that would take their time but still push Debbie to try more aspects of a typical dental check-up. I needed someone who was willing to give Debbie a full dental exam.
They say the third time is a charm, right? I found yet another pediatric dentist who advertised that they specialized in treating kids with special needs. This time, I didn’t feel as if the advertising was false. I can’t say enough about how amazing Dr. D., Dr. A., and the entire team at this practice are. They are kind. They are patient. They are supportive, and they are willing to take risks with Debbie. They make sure her hygienist is consistently the same. They treat her with the same dignity and respect as all of their patients. They move at her pace but push her just enough so that each visit they do a little more with her. Debbie knows what to expect, and each visit has become significantly better than the last. Our last visit was the most successful to date! Not only did Debbie have her teeth scraped, brushed, and flossed. For the first time in her twelve years, she had x-rays taken of her teeth. I had been pushing for this for years, only to be met with the response, “She can’t handle that right now.” Nobody had been willing to try before.
At this practice, the dentists and the hygienist listened to me and respected my wishes. We had the caveat in place that if Deb was unwilling or unable to follow the directions, we would stop. We did not have to stop, though, because she handled it like a champ.
It took a lot of patience and perseverance on the part of everyone, including Debbie, to make a trip to the dentist successful. It was years in the making, but it was all worth it in the end! Going to the dentist is not the ordeal it once was, which is a huge relief, especially because Debbie will benefit from better oral and dental health care.
WATCH: Debbie at dentist
What about you? What has been your experience with your child’s dental visits? Let’s connect!
xoxoxo ~ Julie