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Dental Care for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder

Girl with sensory processing disorder at a pediatric dentist

Although pediatric dentists work extremely hard at making their practices warm and welcoming for their young patients, it’s not unusual for a child to be a bit nervous before a dental visit. However, for children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), visiting the pediatric dentist can be more than just a bit unnerving. Although neurotypical children can get anxious at a dentist visit, a child who deals SPD can become overcome with extreme fear.

If you have a child who endures the sometimes debilitating effects of SPD, finding the best pediatric dentist is absolutely essential. At Toothfairy Pediatric Dental of Reno, we treat children with all kinds of special needs. We look at every child as an individual, and whether the diagnosis is SPD, autism, or anything else, your child will always receive kind and compassionate care.

If the thought of visiting the pediatric dentist with your child is a concern, here’s some advice for patients with sensory processing disorder from the pediatric dentists at Toothfairy.

What Is SPD?

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition where the brain does not process the input from the body’s senses in the proper way. The brain receives messages are sent to it by the senses but draw the wrong conclusions from those messages. An example of a symptom of SPD would be if a child heard the shrill sound of a dentist’s drill, but their brain amplified and modified the sound in such a way that it would cause the child extreme pain or discomfort. This is only one example because SPD can manifest itself in a number of different ways.

Here are a few quick facts about sensory processing disorder:

  • SPD can afflict both children and adults.
  • Doctors believe that approximately 1 in 20 people may deal with SPD, with some of those people being undiagnosed.
  • The exact cause of SPD is not understood, although heredity may play a part.
  • Children with ADHD and autism show the signs of SPD at much higher numbers than those who present otherwise neurotypical symptoms.

What Can Trigger A Child With SPD At The Dentist?

A trip to the pediatric dentist for someone with Sensory Processing Disorder can be a real hardship. The dentist’s office can cause senses to overload for a neurotypical patient, so you can only imagine how difficult it must be for a child who lives with SPD.

Although SPD can manifest itself in a host of different ways, some common reactions at the pediatric dentist for someone with SPD could be:

  • Fear and anxiousness at getting teeth cleaned due to the constant vibration of the tools or from the scraping of the pick.
  • Extreme sensitivity to the dentist’s light that is shining over them.
  • Gagging when a gloved hand is placed in their mouth, or when the gritty paste is applied to their teeth.
  • Distress from the high-pitched sounds coming from the dentist’s tools.
  • An inability to sit still in the dentist’s chair.
  • Anxiety at a napkin or apron that hangs around the child’s neck.

As you can see, most of these things make neurotypical patients uneasy (after all, none of us loves the sound of the dentist’s drill!), but for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, a trip to the pediatric dentist can cause them real fear and trepidation. Fixing the issue isn’t as simple as reassuring a child that they’ll be ok. Remember: their brain is telling them that the stimuli they’re experiencing are actually much worse than they are in reality.

Why A Pediatric Dentist Is Important

Boy with a toy showing teeth

Most parents who have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder dread a pediatric dentist trip. It’s not that they don’t want to take their child to the dentist. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They know their child needs to have a regular dentist visit every six months. However, they also know how difficult the ordeal could end up being for their child. Unfortunately, many parents with children who have SPD end up putting off their child’s oral care because they don’t want their child to experience the strain of a dentist visit.

If your child has Sensory Processing Disorder, a pediatric dentist trip is vital for their overall well-being. Don’t settle for a family dentist. Although family dentists are wonderful in most situations, a pediatric dentist is your best option for a young child with SPD. Not only has a pediatric dentist graduated from dental school, but they’ve also undergone an extra two years of training. During that time, they’ve acquired additional skills to help them treat children (and especially children with special needs) with compassion, love, and skill.

How To Help Your Child Prepare For The Dentist

Contrary to what you may think, if your child has Sensory Processing Disorder, their pediatric dentist trip doesn’t have to be a hassle. At Toothfairy Pediatric Dental, we’ve found several ways to help soothe children who suffer from SPD. As a parent, consider some of these solutions:

  • Before the appointment, have your child try an electric toothbrush. By introducing them to the feeling of the vibration of the brush on their teeth, they may feel more comfortable when they’re at the dentist.
  • Bring sunglasses that your child can wear when they’re in the chair.
  • Remind the dentist and hygienists not to make any sudden, unannounced moves towards your child’s mouth. They should show your child each tool and explain how they’re going to use it before it enters their mouth.
  • Request that your child wears the x-ray vest during treatment. Since the vest is lead lined, it can act as a makeshift weighted vest, which can help relax some children.
  • Ask your dentist if your child can watch a video on a cell phone or a tablet during treatment. If you can combine this with a pair of headphones, you might be able to block out most auditory stimuli.

Of course, this is an incomplete list, and you know your child’s sensory triggers best. But, use this list to spur a conversation with your pediatric dentist about mitigating Sensory Processing Disorder effects.

Special Needs Dentistry From Toothfairy Pediatric Dental

If you live in Reno or the surrounding metro area, you have a pediatric dentist that understands SPD: Toothfairy Pediatric Dental. We’d love to meet your child and help them receive the oral care treatment they need. We also offer sedation dentistry, which can be an excellent option for young patients who simply cannot cope with a dental visit. Contact us today to see how we can help your family!