Do you and your staff have the skills to provide proper care for every patient who comes through your door? As a pediatric dentist, you will find yourself treating neurodiverse children at some point. Knowing how to accommodate their needs and provide the proper patient experience is an essential part of pediatric dental care.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of conditions traditionally categorized as mental or learning disorders that are now thought of as a more fundamental intrinsic diversity in human brain function.
As many as one in four people are neurodivergent, although their individual experiences vary widely in terms of both type and degree. Autism spectrum disorder is among the most common examples, with others including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and many other conditions.
Why do dentists need to understand neurodiverse children?
Providing proper care for neurodiverse children is important in any field of pediatric medicine, and the more patients you can accommodate, the better outcome you can achieve for your practice. However, there are unique considerations for pediatric dental care, and dentists must be aware of the challenges and their solutions.
One of the most pressing concerns is that visiting the dentist is a highly sensory experience that can easily overwhelm neurodiverse children. Bright lights, visiting a strange place, and even undergoing a routine dental exam can affect these children to a much higher degree.
This is further complicated by communication barriers present in many types of neurodiversity. Patients with autism, for example, may not be able to effectively communicate their concerns and may struggle with oral home care as well.
Preparing your staff for the needs of neurodiverse patients, focusing on clear communication, moving at the patient’s pace, and encouraging a welcoming yet calm environment are simple steps you can take to improve the patient experience not only for your neurodiverse patients, but for all of your patients as well.
Word spreads between families with neurodiverse children about both positive and negative experiences, so you want to make sure to handle every patient the right way.
Stay up to date on best practices and new technologies.
One of the most important parts of providing care for patients with any kind of special needs is to stay up to date with best practices and new technologies. The field of dentistry, in general, is moving toward a more inclusive approach, and you can make sure that your practice keeps pace.
Options such as laser dentistry can make treatment more bearable for patients with sensory issues, along with assuaging dental anxiety. Additional training in sedation dentistry can help you and your staff provide treatment for patients with more advanced needs as well.
Ensure that you and your staff have the proper skills.
Much of your approach to treating neurodiverse children comes down to your and your staff’s interactions with patients.
It’s important to ensure that you and your staff are up to date on the latest language and terms for communication with both children and parents. Training in child psychology is also recommended to learn about neurodiverse brains. Make it a point to collaborate and learn together.
There are a variety of techniques that dentists use to improve care for neurodiverse children. One example is the tell-show-do approach. Breaking down communication and treatment into these phases ensures that your patients aren’t caught off guard. Keeping procedures predictable can smooth out many difficulties.
Keep in mind that autism can overlap with hypermobility disorders, which means that some patients may require more novocaine during dental procedures.
Don’t overlook the importance of communication with parents.
As a pediatric dentist, you already know that communication with parents is just as important as with the children themselves. Ensure you always have tools in your pocket to give to parents who may be feeling desperate, and reassure them that they are doing an excellent job with their children.
The guidance you provide helps ensure their children’s oral health, and this is even more important in neurodiverse children.
Provide a better experience by offering more in-house treatment options.
Changes that some might consider routine can pose significant challenges for neurodiverse children. This includes being referred to another specialist. And parents of neurodiverse children may be especially more likely to pursue a treatment for their child if regaining trust with another provider isn’t required.
You can help maintain continuity for neurodiverse patients by expanding your treatment options. The more treatments you offer in-house, the fewer cases you’ll need to refer to a specialist. Orthodontic treatment is one area where continuing education courses can expand your capabilities and enable you to handle a variety of cases within your practice.
Develop the skills to support your pediatric patient base.
The best pediatric dental clinics will be well-suited for all children—including neurodiverse children. Applying these accommodations can benefit both your patients and your practice as a whole. Membership with the American Orthodontic Society provides networking opportunities for you to discover how your peers face these same challenges, and our courses provide a solid foundation to expand your treatment options. Find out what the American Orthodontic Society has to offer today.
To learn more about our popular orthodontics courses for pediatric and general dentists, check out one of the upcoming events below.