Ordinarily not a topic that necessarily needs a post to itself, I thought I would share our first experience at the dentist, as a mom of a child with autism. I don't normally try to think of Mason as any different than any other child, but the truth is, in certain situations, he is definitely different. Not in a bad way, but sometimes it just requires some extra prep.
That being said, I totally failed in the prep department for this trip. I asked Mason a few times in the morning if he wanted to go to the dentist and he said "yeah!" but silly me should have realized that he's never been before (even with me or Seth) so he really has no idea what he is saying "yeah!" to.
But let's rewind to before I even made the appointment. I literally had NO idea where to start to find a good pediatric dentist. My nieces have a dentist but that's only one recommendation. Plus, Mason's needs are different than theirs. I'm a part of a Facebook group of local moms with kids with special needs so I posted a question in the group asking where those moms take their kids to the dentist. There was an overwhelming response to the dentist that we ended up picking so I did a little research between him and the other ones that were given good recommendations and ended up picking this dentist.
Upon first walking in to the office on Wednesday morning, I was impressed. The office was totally decked out in kids stuff. There was an aquarium, a TV, some of those wooden play structures with the beads that you push along the wires (I don't know what they are called but they're pictured below), tons of books, iPads strapped to the wall in cases so you could play games, and much more. It was pretty much a kid's heaven.
I filled out the new patient paperwork and Seth played with Mason. Shortly after I finished, they took us back. When I called to set up the appointment, I had told them that Mason has autism. I didn't know if that mattered at all, but I just wanted it noted in his file, since I heard that the dentist was good with kids with special needs. As it turns out, it did matter because they allow kids with special needs to be in a separate room where they can have privacy and have quiet, away from the other patients, that way if another child is crying (for whatever reason), it doesn't scare them.
I wasn't quite sure what to think of being in a separate room, away from everyone else, at first but after we were in there, I LOVED IT. The room had everything that any other station would have - a chair, all the dental instruments, the counter with all the supplies, etc - as well as a TV strapped to the ceiling and another one of those wooden play things with the beads that you push around on the wires. I'm not sure if all the other stations had that (I bet they did at least have TVs since it's a kids dentist), but I was happy the room had it as it kept Mason at ease and entertained.
The dental hygienist had walked us into the room and everything was going well. I was even able to sit Mason on the big boy dentist's chair. He was calm. He was trying to figure out why the TV was on the ceiling and he was tilting his head back trying to watch it. The dental hygienist stepped out for a minute, I snapped a few pictures, and all seemed to be going well - WAY better than I imagined.
She came back in and asked Mason to pick his fluoride flavor so she could clean his teeth. He pointed to chocolate. I told her we better not use chocolate since he doesn't even like to eat chocolate and so we changed to strawberry instead. At this point, he was still sitting on the chair. She told him she was going to lean the chair back so she could look in his mouth and he jumped off the chair as fast as possible. I tried to encourage him to stay on by telling him that he would be able to see the TV better if he laid down; that it would be as if he was laying on his bed or on the couch, but he would have none of it. He was scared, which was understandable.
Seth sat in the chair and held Mason on his lap. He was still scared and wanted to get away as fast as possible. At this point (and please don't think we're terrible parents, I swear he was not being hurt), Seth held him down. The dental hygienist told Seth to hold his arms in one hand and his head in the other and she tried to clean his teeth. It definitely wasn't the easiest, and Mason was crying and screaming the whole time, but she was able to make her way in there and clean as best as she could. We let Mason down for a minute to relax and she tried to spray some water in his mouth, but he didn't want to, so we dropped it. A few minutes later she wanted to try flossing, so Seth had to hold him down again. He fought that too but she was able to get in there. Luckily he has spaces between most of his teeth (not huge, but enough) so the only teeth that really needed it were the back teeth. Flossing was done. We had made it!!!
The dental hygienist stepped out for a minute and went to grab the dentist to come in for a check up. He was so, so good with Mason and played with him for a bit before trying to explain anything. He showed him that the beaded wooden structure on the wall looked like a face (there were wires for the beads that made up two "eyes", a "nose", and a "mouth" (it's all I see now (see above picture) but at first I had no idea!). After he introduced himself to Mason, he asked Seth and I a little bit about Mason, mainly about the services that Mason was getting and what the ABA therapists were focusing on while working with him. He was very familiar with the types of services that kids with special needs might get (like speech, OT, ABA, etc), which was really wonderful for me to hear. I immediately knew we made the right choice in choosing him as our dentist because he really understood us and Mason's needs.
After he got some information from us, he took the bear "dummy" that he had and showed Mason what he would be doing to his mouth. He laid the bear down on his lap and opened the bear's mouth and showed Mason the mirror he would use to look in his mouth (and let him hold it). He explained in a way that Mason could understand what he would be doing with him. And then... he tried to do it. And Mason cried. Again, Seth held him down and somehow the dentist was able to look in Mason's mouth because as he was crying, he was still following the directions and opening his mouth.
The dentist said that Mason's teeth look great, which is really good to hear! He asked if we were using toothpaste with fluoride, we said no, and he said we should start, maybe a couple times a week or every other day, just so he's getting a little bit of that, but use a VERY small amount, just in case he swallows it. He also recommended flossing, so I need to go pick up some of those floss sticks so we can practice. We thanked him for all his help, made another cleaning appointment for in 6 months, and Mason (and Daddy) were even so good that they got a cute little dentist ducky and some stickers for their bravery at the dentist!
So, overall, if I'm being honest, my fear and why I waited so long to make Mason's dentist appointment came true. I knew in my mind that the appointment would not go well (maybe that's why it didn't?? I need to use the power of positive thinking for next time!), but in general, I feel really good about the appointment. I LOVED the separate, private room. I LOVED the dental hygienist and the dentist. And I LOVED the overall experience and the fact that Mason will now know what to expect next time. I know what I need to do to prepare him better in the future and I have a very positive outlook on the fact that next time will be better. I am so thankful for the person who recommended this dentist to me and if anyone lives in my area, I would gladly pass on the recommendation to you as well!