Dental care and sensory processing – a patient’s story

14th April 2020 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

Fortunately, most children feel comfortable about going to the dentist. With modern dentistry focusing on preventive care and a good range of effective fluoride products available, most children don’t suffer dental pain and have healthy teeth. Some children, however, find it hard to accept dental care. Sensory processing difficulties make the experience overwhelming.

“Hygienist Appointment – I took my daughter to the hygienist to clean her bottom teeth which had some tartar build up. She has a sensory disorder and was very nervous. The hygienist was absolutely brilliant with her and Cerys was put at ease and we were able to get her teeth cleaned.” MJ – SpaDental Saltash

girl in red chair for dental care sensory processing

Cerys’s story: facing dental care with sensory processing challenges

Cerys is seven years old and lives with her mum, dad and her eleven year old sister. The family has attended the dentist on Fore Street since it opened.

When Cerys was a baby, her mum noticed quite a few small signals that her development was not following the same patterns as her sister. She was fussy feeding and was colicky. She took to comfort sucking two middle fingers a lot and became unsettled when some fabrics touched her skin.

Moreover, it became clear to Cerys’s mum that her daughter was upset by some tastes. With regard to establishing an oral hygiene routine, she explains, “The main problem is toothpaste. She hates mint as it is too strong for her. We have tried various brands, including sensitive ones with mild mint but these are still quite strong for her.”

As her speech developed slowly, Cerys’s mum began to ask even more questions. Health visitors and the doctor, however, were satisfied that Cery’s development was within expected parameters. Later, however, Cerys’s school initiated steps for her to see an occupational therapist.

Why does SPD make oral hygiene so challenging?

Some children find processing sensory information difficult. They receive sensory signals from their surroundings but experience difficulty differentiating and ordering them. They can, for example, be particularly sensitive to strong tastes and touch, which makes using a toothbrush or toothpaste difficult. When responses to sensory input impact on everyday life, therapists apply the term ‘Sensory Processing Disorder’ (SPD).

SPD usually leads to sensory defensiveness, which explains why a child tries to avoid exposure to stimuli. It’s protective behaviour.

Developing a dental care routine at home with a child who has oral hypersensitivity is challenging.  It takes patience and understanding – at home and at the dentist.

Cerys goes to the dentist for hygiene care

Cerys’s mother explains: “We took her to the dentist when she was very young and she had her big sister with her. This February she needed plaque removed from her bottom teeth but she flatly refused to go as she was scared.

We re-booked her appointment and I tried to prepare her for the next dental visit. I explained it was just water and it wouldn’t hurt but may feel a bit strange. The hygienist was great with her and very patient. She again explained to Cerys it was just water and it would feel a bit unusual. Afterwards, Cerys was over the moon and said it tickled!”

As Cerys left the surgery feeling good about the experience, next time will be easier. Well done to Cerys and her mum!

The SpaDental team looks forward to seeing Cerys for her next check-up!

How can the dentist help?

When it’s difficult for a child to have an effective oral hygiene routines at home, a visit to the dentist can help parents as well as children. That’s because it often takes a third person to reinforce the message parents are trying to get across at home.

During a routine examination, the dentist will risk assess the child’s teeth and make recommendations on home oral hygiene routines, dental products to use, diet and additional care, such as fluoride painting. Professional advice can also help older children understand their own role in keeping a healthy mouth.

Prior to an appointment, spend time preparing your child:

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POSTED IN: Children, Saltash


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