Autism and the Dentist

I’ve unfortunately been having some dental work done this week – on myself. And as much as I would rather not be doing it, I’m glad that I’m the one, and not Nigel. As I sat there in the chair this morning, getting my mouth shot up with novocaine and then having my teeth drilled, I wondered how he would handle it.

I brushed Nigel’s teeth for him until he was six or seven years old. I just didn’t want to risk having him brush his own teeth poorly and getting cavities, which would mean having to take him to the dentist.  He used to get upset by lawn mowers and leaf blowers that he could hear from three blocks away, so how on earth could he stand a dentist’s drill in his mouth? He shrieked whenever I would try to trim his hair with scissors (because clippers were out of the question), so naturally I dreaded having to take him to the dentist. I figured that if I brushed his teeth for him, he wouldn’t get cavities.

So, when he was seven, I had him start brushing his own teeth, because it was time. After about two years of him doing it himself, I noticed that his sound sensitivities seemed to be waning, and I thought that it was probably high time that he saw a dentist and had his teeth checked. I prepared him with social stories, played dentist with him, and promised a reward after the appointment. He seemed ready. I stayed with him the entire time, of course, and notified the dental office ahead of time that he had autism. They were very accommodating, letting Nigel touch the instruments before they placed them in his mouth. I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time, hoping that nothing would upset him. Drills were going in other rooms, and he reacted to them and seemed a little nervous, but I assured him that they wouldn’t be using those on him that day. I was so glad that he was able to filter out the sounds and remain seated in the chair.

And, in fact, he’s never had to have his teeth drilled. Not that day, not ever. Nigel has never had a single cavity, thank God. He’s never had to be restrained to receive shots in his mouth, and he’s never had to try to sit calmly while someone drilled his teeth. I suspect that many autistic kids have had to be sedated to have dental work done on them, and I wonder if Nigel will need that at some point. But we’ll keep our digits crossed – he’s been to the dentist every year for the past five years, and no cavities. I find that fact astounding considering that he barely has the toothbrush in his mouth for thirty seconds and won’t do it at all unless I remind him.

I go in next week for my last bit of work, and then I’m done – with any luck, for good. Maybe I should just start brushing my teeth for thirty seconds – it seems to work for some people in this house. And anyway, as Nigel says, “Who cares about hygiene?”

14 thoughts on “Autism and the Dentist

  1. Chapati

    You’ve got some really good parenting ideas! I hope I remember all of this for when I’ve got kids 🙂

    I don’t particularly like the dentist either, mainly because the one I used to go to a couple of years ago was really rough; she didn’t quite seem to understand that people’s mouths are really quite sensitive to sharp implements. I’ve got a fairly high pain threshold – heck, I put up with braces for two years, but the fact she was poking the inside of my mouth for no reason was annoying.

    Hope they’re not putting you in too much pain!

  2. Fearless Females

    That’s so great for him. I’ve known people who have never had cavities–funny.

    After practice at the dentist every 6 months, Meghan has become used to the dentist and has had cavities (2 or 3) in her lifetime, but has done well having the work done. Kids’ dentists make it quick and easy–

  3. Em

    Good luck on your dental work. I have full sympathy!

    And if you imagine dentistry with Nigel might be filled with landmines, just think about the fact that Son18 had to have braces! There aren’t enough social stories in the world for all those visits! LOL

  4. mama mara

    You just reminded me of how I prepared Rocky for the dentist. I actually pilfered a doctor’s mask and wore it for a week every time I brushed his teeth. It didn’t help; when the hygienist tried to poke his gums with the pointy thing, he kicked her in the stomach.

    Lucky for us, our town’s autism society puts out a comprehensive list of services for kids on the spectrum that includes member parents’ recommendations for autie-friendly dentists, doctors, etc. Both of my boys see a really wonderful dentist now, and no one gets kicked anymore.

  5. M

    it’s weird.

    precisely because the dentist is uncomfortable…i can deal with it. i’ve never had a problem with the dentist. my current job…it’s insurance…provides two free teeth cleanings a year…so i go…i open my mouth…wait through it.

    at the dentists office, my discomfort makes perfect sense. i’m able to be myself there.

    but with haircuts, i can’t seem to handle it. me feeling odd, disconnected, unhappy…it doesn’t make any sense there, in terms of the context. so a few years ago, i bought clippers, started cutting my own hair.

    anyway. it’s a bit of a contradiction. i cut my own hair…yet have no problem sitting through the dentist.

    hmm. we, the internally dissonant.

  6. Pweshes Mama

    Wow! It’s so good that Nigel has never had a cavity! Keep up the good work! My husband is actually a dentist so we are lucky in that he really ensures Raiyan maintains good dental “hygiene” cause sadly some of the kids he sees need teeth to be TAKEN OUT even as young as THREE! I’ve also always dreaded the idea of bringing Raiyan to the dentist even though it’s his own dad so it’s reassuring to know that it’s possible he can escape any prospects of it until he’s much older and I hope when he’d be able to handle it better.

    I love your blog and really aspire to where you are now. It’s so positive and inspiring! Keep up the good work!

  7. kia (good enough mama)

    I can only hope that we’ll have the same luck with our LIttle Man, but I’m extremely doubtful. He’s now 5, hasn’t been to a dentist since he was just barely 3, and I’m worried about his teeth, due to his diet, etc. I’m also DREADING/AVOIDING making an appointment because I’m pretty sure it’s going to be hell-ish. I can only hope we’re as happy afterwards as you were. 🙂

  8. Michelle O'Neil

    I still go over Riley’s teeth after every time she brushes, twice a day.

    When she was six I had to lay on top of her in the chair during her first dental cleaning, and they barely touched her. It was total trauma, the screaming.

    Two years later we tried again, and she did okay. Nervous, but got through with no screaming.

    I will go over her teeth until she’s twenty if I have to. I shudder at the thought of a cavity.

    So glad you son hasn’t had any!

  9. Mary (MPJ)

    I’m glad my son hasn’t had any cavities either. He’s nearly 8 and I still have to help with the teeth brushing.

    We’re lucky to have found a really excellent dentist. I was so scared to take my son (who has huge sensitivities around his mouth) to see a dentist, and I was really reassured by the fact that the office staff took 45 minutes on the phone with me to describe how they would work with a child with autism.

    But it didn’t end there. They sent a book ahead of time to describe the appointment so I could let me son know what to expect. They schedule extra long appointments so he won’t be rushed. And they did monthly “checkup” visits for free for a year just so that he could get used to coming there and being in the office.

    Hm, occurs to me that I need to write an ode to my dentist! 😉

    Ok, that’s a long first comment. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I’m glad to have found you.

  10. Pingback: Health Care Plans Come With Many Conditions

  11. Bonnie Sayers

    The last time Nick went to the Dentist was in Nov 07 and they spent over 35 minutes taking x rays. Turns out he has some cavities, needs root canal and maybe braces. It was so overwhelming for us we have not yet returned. Had a hard time finding a Dr to consult for the braces.

    Matt went to childrens hospital where it took several to hold him down to get teeth cleaned. They said no cavities, have to return as it has been almost 4 yrs.

    First will be me though since I need a new pair of dentures. Bad teeth run in my family, first dentist visit was at 13 due to a chipped tooth, downhill after that.

Comments are closed.