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Dental Care and Autism: What You Should Know

Going to the dentist can be nerve-wracking for anyone. However, for a child with autism, dental care can be a much more difficult experience. An overload of sensory elements can make going to the dentist overwhelming and scary. Luckily, choosing the right dentist, knowing what to expect, and preparing for your child’s visit can all help make the experience easier. As a dentist who has worked with families for nearly 20 years, I know how important it is for your child to have a positive experience at the dentist’s office. That’s why I have put together information and helpful tips on what you can expect when taking your child to the dentist, and how to prepare to make it a positive experience.

Dr. Greg Grillo

Dr. Greg Grillo

Choosing a Dentist

Choosing the right dentist is the first thing you should do when it comes to your child’s dental care. While you may feel overwhelmed with choosing the right one, your child will have a more positive experience if you can find one that is perfect for them. There are many dentists that specialize in special needs care, plus, most dental offices will accommodate for any child with autism or special needs.

To help you begin your search here are some helpful tips:

Use Referral Services – Visiting the American Dental Association website ( is a great place to start searching for a dentist. Their search engine allows you to search for dentists by location and specialty. Another way to search is by doing some of your own online research to find a list of special needs dentists in your area.

If your online searching doesn’t lead you to the results you’re hoping for, talk with your primary healthcare provider. Not only do they have an extensive network of healthcare professionals in your area, but they also know you and your child and can help recommend a dentist that will fit your needs.

Ask Questions – As you search for and speak with potential dentists, it will be important to ask a lot of questions. This is the best way to know if the dentist you choose will be able to accommodate and properly care for your child’s needs, whatever they may be. Some questions to start your conversations are:

  • Are you comfortable working with a child with special needs?
  • What kind of experience do you have working with patients who have autism?
  • Will you be able to make any accommodations for my child during their appointment?

These are just a few questions to ask, but be sure to speak with a dentist about any questions or concerns you have. No question is a bad one, they are all important so you can be confident in your decision.

While it may seem difficult at times, never give up in your search for the right dentist for your child. It’s important for a child with autism to be comfortable where they’re receiving dental care, so always keep your child’s needs in mind. The perfect dentist is out there, and you can find them.

What to Expect at Your Child’s Visit

As a dentist, I always try to give parents an idea of what to expect at their child’s first dental appointment and future appointments. This can help prepare both of you for a better experience.

Nerves – There is bound to be some degree of nervousness at your child’s first visit. There are many ways to work through these that I’ll discuss later, and they will help you prepare for your child’s visit. Do what you can to make going to the dentist a positive experience for your child. Your dentist will be right there beside you, helping you along the way.

New People – Meeting new people is another thing you can expect when taking your child for dental care for the first time. This can be overwhelming for a child with autism, as the new environment can cause sensory overload. Again, I’ll speak more about how to help your child through this, but it’s important to be aware of it so you can know how to prepare.

Tips for a Successful Dental Visit

There are many ways to have a successful dental visit for you and your child, but it’s mostly about finding what works best for both of you. Here are just a few ways I believe work best for preparing and ensuring a great dental visit.

Practice at Home – Practicing at home is one of the best things you can do to prepare for a successful dental visit. Use visuals like story books and videos to help your child visualize the experience. You can also play games such as role-playing dental visits to give your child an idea of what a dental visit is like.

Familiarization Appointment – To help your child feel less overwhelmed the day of their appointment, consider scheduling a familiarization appointment ahead of time. These appointments are an opportunity for you and your child to see the dental office and meet the staff before any dental care is done on your child with autism. This can help them feel more familiar with the environment for when it’s time for their actual appointment.

Accommodations – Your dentist will be able to accommodate your child to make their visit the best it can be. Some common accommodations that may help your child include an early morning appointment or a specific flavor of toothpaste. You can also ask to bring your child’s favorite toy or blanket as well as headphones or an iPad with their favorite movie to help distract them a bit from the dental work and what’s going on around them.

Dental care is extremely important for all children. However, sensory issues may make it more difficult for children with autism to visit the dentist. Luckily, choosing the right dentist, knowing what to expect, and preparing for their visit can help make the experience better. Never give up on your child’s dental health and embrace the learning experience that comes with it. It is possible for your child to be comfortable at the dentist with patience, love, and dedication.

Dr. Greg Grillo has been a practicing dentist in Washington State for more than 17 years. After studying at the University of Washington, Dr. Grillo received a bachelor’s degree with honors before attending the School of Dentistry on the same campus.

Dr. Grillo is committed to caring for families and educating his patients about the health benefits that come with a good oral hygiene routine. This is especially true for families that have children with autism, Down syndrome or other additional needs. As a valuable member of the Dentably team, Dr. Grillo is able to share his expertise with you to make your next appointment at the dentist a comfortable experience.

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