Growing up, dental health was a huge deal in my family. My dad was a dental laboratory technician in the Air Force for 20 years and still continues that same line of work almost 20 years later. He used to bring home these sneaky plaque revealing tablets to trap us if we didn’t brush well enough, and I myself had a LOT of dental work done. I had braces, expanders, head gear…the works. Taking care of my teeth after all that has been important and teaching my boys to do the same is a priority. This has been a huge challenge with our oldest with his sensory processing and autism spectrum disorders. I’ve come up with some tips for brushing teeth with a child with sensory concerns and difficulties. They aren’t all perfect but they’re a start, even if your kiddo is simply having a tough time with it in general.
- Find a toothbrush they love. Soft bristles, comfy handle, with a color or character that they’re interested in.
- Grab a fun timer or find a video they can watch for the span of time to brush. Remember to start small and build up to a longer time frame. Some brushing is better than no brushing. It can be you doing the brushing, the child doing it, or a combination of both.
- Try a finger brush, silicone bristled brush, or a brush designed for children with special needs if the bristles of a regular brush are too much. You can massage their hand or cheek to familiarize them with the sensation.
- Start with no toothpaste if they have an aversion to it and slowly introduce small amounts.
- Lean the child back against you with their head on your chest for brushing and flossing. Go slow and speak/sing softly.
- Use praise and rewards rather than consequences and negativity. This is an important skill but also something that can be very difficult to handle, so keep it light and upbeat. We love to use “if, then” in our house. “If you let me brush your teeth for one minute, then you can play for 5 extra minutes before bed.” Whatever works!
- Practice good oral hygiene even if it isn’t perfect everyday, encourage healthy eating (as much as you can!), and visit a dentist every 6 months. Make sure the dentist is aware of your child’s special needs! I cannot begin to tell you how difficult dental visits are for us and how much I dread them, but having a dentist who had a heads up and knew the circumstances was a huge help. The visit may be a total bust but keep trying!Remember to be patient and allow you and your child so much grace. We have really great days, not so great days, and some where we scrap the idea altogether. Consistency is key!
Infant Nursery Supervisor
Parent Connection Coordinator