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Trying to get my 4-year-old daughter with autism and a sensory processing disorder to enjoy going to the dentist (or even just to tolerate walking in the door) was a huge endeavor. I won’t lie, it took years of faithful six month visits! Kids need to understand that this is not a choice but something that is done every six months. Careful brushing will help prevent cavities and make the checkups much easier. I want to share a few of the strategies we used that helped make each experience positive, and now she enjoys going to the dentist.

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Prior to your appointment, take your child into the dentist and have them check out the lobby and the playroom (if they have one). Also make sure that the child receives some sort of positive reward from one of the staff. It can be anything from an awesome compliment to a small toy or treat. Always leave the office on a positive note.

>> Read more: 5 Ways to Help Your Child Overcome Their Fear of the Dentist

Always be truthful about what will happen at the dentist. We purchased several books about going to the dentist and a dentist kit where my daughter could work on her dolls to feel more comfortable. It is a must that the hygienist talk your child through what they are doing. Explain what they are about to do and why. While the oral exam/cleaning is going on they also must help your child take deep breaths if they start to feel anxious. They also can tell them, “I am working on the last tooth and then you can have some water.” My daughter’s hygenist does not allow for tears, just deep breaths.

>> Read more: Dirty Mouth: 5 Foods to Stay Away From for Oral Health

Once the exam is complete, make sure your child receives a reward for good behavior. Do not reward if their behavior was inappropriate. Allow them to play for a few minutes if they choose to and leave on a positive note. Most dentist offices now have great waiting room for kids and lots of cool rewards they can choose from. Most also have very understanding staff and want to make sure your child has a pleasant experience!

>> Read more: Oral Hygiene and Your Health