Dental work while autistic

I recently had to go to the dentist to have a broken tooth removed, and I thought it might be worth talking about it a bit from my perspective, specifically from an autism angle.

There were some things I thought they did well and others that they could have done better. To be fair, though, I did not tell them that I am autistic, so I have no idea if they would have done things differently if they had known.

When I first showed up for my appointment, they were terribly busy. So busy that they did not call me back until an hour after I was supposed to have had my appointment. This was very stressful. In the past, I probably would not have made it. As it was I managed to cope, but it was overwhelming and unpleasant. A huge thing that would have helped would have been better communication from the front desk. For instance, a simple comment like “We are really backed up today, you will probably have to wait an extra [amount of time]” probably would have made it easier for me. As it is, I spent the entire hour tensely waiting for them to call me, and eventually fretting that they had forgotten about me.

Once I did make it in, communication was an interesting mixed bag.

I required two injections in my mouth to numb me up. The first one had very little warning, with no explanation of how it was likely to feel. I found that was difficult to cope with. For the second one (given by the same doctor, interestingly enough), he told me about what it would feel like and gave some tips on breathing through it. Knowing what I could expect helped a lot. Apparently most people find the second injection more difficult to cope with than the first, and the doctor was surprised when I told him it was the other way around for me. I suspect the communication (or lack thereof) explains this.

Before getting to work, the doctor did make a point to let me know that I would still feel pressure during the procedure – pain can be numbed, but not pressure. He did not, however, tell me a number of other things I would experience, such as the general physicality of the procedure, or the cracking noises. Luckily, I had read up ahead of time of what I could expect – otherwise it would have been much harder for me than it already was.

One thing I could have done for myself was take a lorazepam (an anti-anxiety medication) beforehand. As they were doing the procedure my anxiety suddenly hit me very hard, mostly manifesting as rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing, along with some amount of physical trembling. Just to be clear – this would have required pre-planning and I would have wanted to clear that use with my psychiatrist first. While anxiety issues are not themselves autism, it is common for them to go along with autism and it can be helpful to be prepared for that.

Aftercare is also giving me a few issues. After dental work it is important to keep a soft diet for a while, but I have texture issues that prevent me from eating anything mushy. This is severely limiting my diet. So far I have been eating jello, ice cream, noodles, and fruit cut into small pieces. Again, pre-planning is helpful in cases like this in order to find the best solutions to multiple issues.

Finally, Nee has been incredibly helpful to me. I did my best to plan ahead of time ways I could take it easy, but (again with communication) I was unclear just how functional I would be after the procedure. As it turns out, I was only barely functional at all. Nee helped get me what I needed so I could just sit or lay down, and also helped me know what I needed to do if I was not figuring it out for myself. Which mostly meant informing me that I should take a nap.

So basically, I would have really appreciated more communication from the dentist’s office. I don’t do so well with things that are unexpected or unplanned, so making extra sure I always knew what was going on or about to happen would have been a huge help to me.


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2 responses to “Dental work while autistic

  1. Autism Mom

    Great post, thank you! I have learned that the anesthetic they use can cause an increase in adrenaline, which then raises my anxiety levels. It helps to know that my feeling is physiological. My son also sometimes uses the lead apron for the x-rays as a weighted blanket during dental work. 🙂

    • Ohmygoodness, using the lead apron as a weighted blanket is an amazing idea! I wish I had thought of that. I may ask about that during future dental work.