February is National Children's Dental Health Month. For the entire month of February, dental providers, health care professionals, and teachers work to promote healthy dental practices and the benefits of good oral hygiene for kids across the country. Among the many tips and strategies for good dental health addressed include regular flossing, scheduled dental visits, and establishment of a tooth brushing routine. However, for parents of children with sensory sensitivities or oral aversions, tooth brushing can seem like more of a battle or dreaded task than daily routine within the home.
If your child is fighting you or seems very resistant to brushing their teeth, important, but often overlooked factors to consider are the type of toothbrush and toothpaste used. Parents may need to trial different types of brushes of various sizes, colors, handle textures, and bristle firmness. There are even toothbrushes available that sing or light up to make brushing more fun. An electric toothbrush with a slight amount of vibration can also provide sensory input that your child may enjoy. Along with the type of toothbrush, the toothpaste used may also be greatly impacting your child's brushing experience. Consider experimenting with different brands or flavors, using a smaller amount of toothpaste, or even beginning without any toothpaste on the brush and gradually working up to an appropriate amount.
Another factor to consider for your child with sensitivities or aversions to brushing their teeth is preparing their sensory system for the task. Applying deep pressure to their legs and arms, before gradually moving towards their face and mouth can be a great way to help prepare your child for brushing their teeth. Work to desensitize your child's face, lips, and mouth by using your fingers or soft washcloth to rub their cheeks, nose, chin, and lips using firm, deep pressure. Finally, moving to inside their mouth, by taping their gums firmly beginning from the center of their mouth and working towards the sides on both their upper and lower gums. These should be done in the same order each day in order for it to be predictable for the child.
Ensuring that your child knows the routine of tooth brushing can also be very important. Be sure to make this activity and the order of tasks the same each day. Singing a familiar song such as the ABC's throughout brushing their teeth can be a comforting and entertaining element to the task. When you sing a song when brushing their teeth, your child can learn that there is an end to the activity. Knowing that an undesirable activity has an end can help make it more tolerable for the child.
If you try some of these strategies and your child is still struggling, it might be a good idea to seek out the assistance of an occupational therapist to help assess the problem further and determine an appropriate treatment plan. If you'd like some help, feel free to contact us!