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Toothbrushing tips for kids with sensory issues

Wednesday, 8 June 2022
Toothbrushing tips for kids with sensory issues

We all know children should brush their teeth twice a day—it prevents plaque build-up and removes food particles that can lead to painful tooth decay.

But this can be a very challenging job for parents and carers of children with sensory issues.  Read on to discover advice from Inspiro's dental team.

The mouth is the most sensitive part of the body.

At a very early age, most children put things in their mouths to learn about textures and tastes. This is an important development stage called ‘oral motor control’ that kids go through as they learn to eat and speak.  

Usually, this is around the time sensory sensitivity issues become obvious to parents. 

When a child is sensitive to touch, smells, tastes and textures, mealtime and tooth brushing can become very challenging.  If your child dislikes the taste or smell of toothpaste and the feeling of being touched around the mouth, it stands to reason they’ll also dislike the sensation and feel of the brush and paste inside their mouth.   

So, what can you do?  

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Slowly introduce new textures to your child’s mouth by following our step-by-step advice to make oral hygiene less overwhelming. 

  1. Sit with your child on the floor between your legs resting against your tummy. Or stand in front of a mirror with your child in front of you.  
  2. Gently wash your child’s face with a soft and clean washcloth, allowing them to feel it moving gently around their face and lips.  
  3. If they’re willing to open their mouth, gently move the washcloth across your child’s teeth and gums.  
  4. Gently introduce your child’s forefinger to their mouth by placing it on their lips. Allow them to roll their lips with their fingers.  
  5. Encourage your child to gently massage their gums, making sure to focus on one part of the mouth at a time. 

Once your child is coping well with being touched around the mouth, introduce a toothbrush in a similar way.  

  1. Use an age-appropriate toothbrush or a finger wrapped in a washcloth.  
  2. Encourage your child to hold the toothbrush.  
  3. Dip the brush under the water and encourage your child to bring the brush to their lips. (This is best done by gently guiding your child’s hand in the right direction.)  
  4. Next, guide your child’s hand to their mouth and begin gently brushing the teeth, gums, and tongue.  

What if your child hates the minty taste of toothpaste? 

Many pharmacies stock low foaming, bacterial reducing toothpaste without a mint taste–so speak to your local pharmacist. Just make sure the brand you choose contains fluoride as it's essential for strong, hard teeth.  

Read these blogs to brush up on your oral health knowledge:

References:  

  • Autism Spectrum Australia: Sensory Processing March 2017 
  • Sensory Processing in Children with Autism Spectrum and Impact on functioning: Feeding and Eating 
  • Oral Desensitization: Community Pediatric Occupational Therapy Department: ABM,NHS,Wales.UK