Children’s sensory processing challenges at the dentist

19th February 2020 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

Lots of people tell us they don’t like going to the dentist. But for some people it’s more difficult than for others. In this article we’re looking at how to tackle sensory processing challenges at the dentist. 

For many children, visits to the dentist can be worrying. For children with heightened sensitivity or sensory processing challenges, a visit to the dentist can be daunting – for the parent or carer, as well as for the child. Preparing beforehand can help the experience run more smoothly. And also help get the treatment done.

Help prepare children with sensory processing challenges.

We’re sharing some expert advice for parents and carers to help prepare children and reduce sensory overload.

portrait of author Charlotte Olson sensory processing challenges Charlotte Olson is a children’s author who writes books about everyday life experiences. She develops stories “intended to help children cope with new situations found in most families.”

In her book “Suzie goes to the Dentist” writer Charlotte Olson presents ideas to open helpful communication. If you’re taking a child to the dentist who may be challenged processing sensory experiences outside their day to day routines, Charlotte’s book is a useful way to talk though it first.

Charlotte is a mum from Bristol. Her stories are based on her family’s journey with their son and autism.

Explore Charlotte Olson’s series of social books on her website, including Suzie goes to the Dentist“.

What is sensory processing disorder?

Children respond differently to light and sound, to the feel of something, or to tastes and smells. It’s not unusual for a child to be upset by a loud noise, an unpleasant smell or very bright lights. But for some children, and adults too, their brains find processing sensory information difficult. In short, although they receive unimpaired signals from their surroundings, but experience difficulty differentiating and ordering what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Sensory processing issues may also include balance and kinaesthetic awareness.

Therapists apply the term ‘sensory processing disorder’ when responses to sensory input are extreme enough to disrupt or impact on everyday life. It may also be one of a cluster of symptoms under a wider umbrella term for a  developmental condition, such as autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Identifying and separating concerns linked to sensory processing from other behaviours can help to reduce anxiety and make everyday situations easier to handle.

Sensory processing challenges

Sensory challenges a trip to the dentist may include are:

It’s important to communicate

Charlotte says, “Talk with your child before you go. Explain to your child what they can expect to happen when visiting the dentist. Keep it simple, so that the child can process without overloading.”

Charlotte suggests introducing ideas in advance to help with sensory processing before you go to the dentist:

A few useful strategies while you’re at the dentist are:

image of cover of book Suzie goes to the dentist

A bag of familiar items can help make the visit go more smoothly:

Charlotte says, “The more you can communicate with the dentist and staff who will be assisting your child through the whole experience, the better.” Remember the dental team wants to help your child access the care s/he needs, so the more they know the more they can do to help.

If you would like to learn more about social books or order a copy of “Suzie goes to the Dentist” by Charlotte Olson, please visit her website.

A few additional words from the dental team:

Preventive dental care is very important. With effective home oral hygiene, visits to the dentist are just short check-ups. Dental advice stresses the importance of:

We recommend that all babies visit the dentist before their first birthday to help them get used to the clinical environment, processes and people. It helps enormously just in case there’s ever a need for emergency dental care because of an accident.

People also ask:

If you have advice to share with other parents about your visits to the dentist, please get in touch! You may also like to find out about the serices available at your nearest SpaDental surgery.



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SpaDental practices are open for remote emergency consultation only

Under instruction from NHS England:

  • All routine, non-urgent dental care is suspended.
  • We offer remote urgent care during work hours. Contact us by phone, email or the link below. A clinician is on hand to advise and recommend temporary solutions.
  • Patients with severe symptoms will be referred to a local urgent dental care facility.

Access our remote urgent care:

Patients with booked appointments: please make sure your contact information is current as we will reschedule.

NHS England implements the above restrictions to protect patients and clinicians. Please stay at home.

This note was updated on 26th March 2020