Tag Archives: dental work

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?”