A year ago we began taking Johnny to a dentist at a hospital that specializes in caring for people with disabilities. He really liked the hospital, the gigantic waiting area with the enormous fish tank for him to gaze at and he seemed to like the intern dentist and hygienist. He had been doing some pretend play at school about teeth and being a dentist and we had a book all about Dora’s first visit to the dentist and what to expect to prepare him. Once the dentist started poking around his mouth he started to cry and no amount of coaxing was going to get him to try. It turned out he had 2 cavities on his back teeth. We tried a second time but he was still very resistant.
Johnny is overly sensitive around his mouth so we decided to really try hard to get him used to tooth brushing and having someone poke around his mouth. We began to use pretend play and use a teddy bear or his Curious George and have him pretend to brush his teeth at bedtime. We’d sing songs as well and even have him try and help us brush our teeth. At some point I got him interested in flossing and I got a little kids animal floss holders and he surprisingly likes it. At school they did a lot more pretend play and classroom work around going to the dentist as well.
What a difference a year can make!
A new pediatric dental practice opened in our neighborhood so we decided to check it out and we were are so glad we did. The pediatric dentist was very kind, warm and welcoming and made Johnny feel safe and secure. She had her office, waiting room, exam room lights dimmed and let Johnny explore and check things out. She definitely had lots of experience dealing with children with Autism and made sure she explained everything she was going to do to him. It also helped that there was a LCD flat screen TV attached to the ceiling as well 😉
Johnny liked the feel of her plastic gloves so she let him stroke and feel them for a bit and hold her hands as she talked to us about his teeth. She would take her dental instruments and let him hold them and then show him on his hands what she wanted to do and then ask if this was okay before actually doing it. “I want a glove.” She gave him a glove to hold. Before she turned on the dental chair exam light she gave him little kids sun glasses to wear. He loved that but thought she should turn on her ceiling lights too. Ah but because she is experienced with Autism she knew that this could stimulate him a lot so lets keep the lights low and keep things relaxed. He let her count his teeth, poke, probe and examine them. He let her scrape the plaque off his teeth even though he squeezed my hand a lot and needed some extra squishes. A lot better then having both Mommy and Daddy hold him in the chair and he barely had anything done in the past! Then she came out with the polishing tool that makes the whirring noise. He didn’t like that at all. She tried to show him on his finger nails but he wanted none of it. I offered my hand and after seeing I was okay and it was fun I was shocked when he opened his mouth and let her do all of his teeth. Then the time came to “paint” his teeth with fluoride. Again her pleasant reassuring manner and loving attitude won him over and after getting over the weird bubble gum taste he let her do that too. Since we were on a major roll she thought she would try her luck x-raying his teeth. This was challenging trying to get him to bite and keep biting the film to hold it in his mouth. I think they got one picture.
What’s the verdict? Johnny’s front lower teeth are a little loose and that is a sign he is going to start losing them sooner then later. We were shocked. It seems that because he started getting his baby teeth in quite young ( 4 by 5 months) that you can start losing them at 5 years. His front two top teeth are a bit worn down by grinding as well. Johnny has 2 cavities that need to be filled. What we are going to do is bring him in a month and the dentist will give a drink with a light sedative in it to relax him and then when the timing is right before the procedure she will administer laughing gas. This is so much better then the alternative which would be for him to be admitted into the children’s hospital downtown so that he would be under anaestia. She let him pick out a plastic nose that had a yummy scent and asked us to let him play with it and practice placing over his nose and sniffing and work up to 30 seconds. Then he got to pick out some little toys to bring home as well. We need to introduce him to children’s toothpaste with fluoride in it as well which he absolutely hates the taste of. We are using the strawberry smelly noise as his reward after he brushes his teeth.
We were amazed at how well he did at the dentist office and how he held himself together at a new place along with all the sensory challenges. Once we got outside and began to walk to the car and relieve our babysitter things changed dramatically. Johnny kept insisting that he wanted to go to the drug store but would not tell us why. He began to get very upset, yell, cry and stomp his feet. He was having a meltdown. He had held himself together bravely but now was looking for a way to self to self regulate and we were rushing him to the car. Normally we would stop and take the time to investigate but we needed to get home to our baby girl and and escape the oppressive heat. We were already late as well. We felt bad afterwards and look at it as a learning moment for us. We are focusing on the fact that our little guy was finally able to handle going to the dentist. Yeah!