Oral Defensiveness: Making Dentist Visits More Tolerable

Believe me, I know from experience, oral defensiveness and dentist visits don't mix!

A personal story... It literally took us 4 years, 1 regular dentist and 2 different pediatric dentists, tears/anxiety/fears, choking, gagging, observing other people having dental work done several times, countless failed attempts, multiple explanations about oral defensiveness (one of the hygienists even wanted me to come talk about it to the staff since they saw it to the extremes many times!), and finally several thousands of dollars to get the more "invasive" procedures (pulling teeth, fillings, and some of the cleaning) done at the hospital under general anesthesia!

Even the anesthesia experiences were horrible; multiple attempts in and out of the O.R., and eventually a 2 minute 4 person restraint as my daughter nearly choked to death to get the anesthesia in her)...

Continue reading the oral defensiveness article below...

Needless to say, going to the dentist when you suffer from oral defensiveness feels nearly impossible to accomplish for both the child and the parent (and the dentist or hygienist)!

Unless, that is, you find a patient pediatric dentist, or one that specializes in sensory processing disorders (knowing the basics about oral defensiveness), AND you use the tools listed below.

Before Going To The Dentist:

  • Have your child participate in some good proprioceptive and heavy work activities right before going to the appointment.

  • Use the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol prior to the visit (only if shown how to do and suggested by a Speech or Occupational Therapist).

  • Do oral-motor brushing to decrease sensitivity (only if shown how to do and suggested by a Speech or Occupational Therapist).

  • Have your child wear "close-fitting" clothing or body-suit underneath their clothes for some even deep pressure.

  • Bring a sports bottle with water, or a cup of ice chips, for your child to drink from or suck on during the ride to the dentist.

  • If possible, allow your child to run around outside, supervised of course, until it is their turn... most waiting rooms can promote increased anxiety and running around can promote a calmer nervous system.

  • Allow the child to use a vibrating massager while waiting; use around mouth and/or hold it in their hands.

  • Use Z Vibes, Oral Massagers, Chewy Tubes

    During The Examination:

  • Have the child squeeze a stress ball or fidget toy during procedures and cleanings.

  • Allow the child to wear a weighted vest, weighted blanket, weighted lap pad or the x-ray vest during cleaning/dental work to promote a calmer nervous system through deep pressure input.

  • Make sure the dentist or hygienist takes the time to explain, step-by-step, what he will do so the child knows what to expect

  • Have the child watch the hygienist put the chair in the proper "tipped-back" position, THEN have the child climb into the chair (for kids with vestibular sensitivities, the feeling of the chair being tipped back, not knowing how far, can be a horrifying experience!)

  • Have the dentist, or hygienist, allow your child to feel the instruments being used before they use them, and explain what the instrument is for/will do (particularly important if it makes a loud sound or vibrates!).

  • If the bright light used by the dentist is too much, allow the child to wear an eye mask or sunglasses.

  • Ask the dentist/hygienist to provide a choice of toothpaste flavors; letting the child see it, smell it, and perhaps lick a tiny amount off his finger first

  • Ask the dentist or hygienist if you can bring in flavored exam gloves for them to use with your child.
  • Oh, by the way, after using some of these techniques, finding a great pediatric dentist, and getting our daughter's tonsils and adenoids out (turns out she couldn't breathe if her mouth was not "available"), our little oral defensive girl now tolerates cleanings well... and, for the first time, even went upstairs to his treatment area ALL BY HERSELF last month! Hooray!! If you are a dentist or hygienist reading this, please take some time to browse this site regarding sensory defensiveness.

    Trust me, although these techniques SEEM like more work, they are definitely not in the long run. Feeling "safe" will be the best thing for the child, and in turn, benefit you! Parents: feel free to bring this to your child's dentist and give them the opportunity to read it and discuss the accommodations they are willing to make.

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    Further Reading

    ARK's Z-Vibe Sensory Oral Motor Kit - ultimate kit with most popular tips, exercise book, and storage case

    "Out of the mouths of babes": Discovering the developmental significance of the mouth

    Oral Sensitivities - A great resource for the signs of oral sensitivities (hypersensitive or hypo sensitive) as it relates to Sensory Processing Disorders, as well as great treatment ideas!

    Chewy Tubes - Watch how Rosalie, age 6, uses a chew tube to keep from chewing on her hands and crayons and helps her focus on the task at hand.

    Weighted Blankets - Use weighted blankets to calm and relax high energy kids or to calm and relax children, teens and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder

    Weighted Vests - Use weighted vests to organize and calm children, teens and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder

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