Brushing teeth is an essential part of our oral hygiene routine however this can be a difficult task for a child with sensory sensitivities. Touch receptors are very important for survival and are abundant in the face making this touch system even more sensitive that the rest of the body. If a child is over-responsive to touch, this can result in poor tolerance for anything in or around the mouth and consequently make tooth brushing very difficult.
It is recommended that children receive assistance to brush their teeth until they are 7 years old as before then, they haven’t developed the motor coordination required to reach and brush all their teeth appropriately.
Ideas to support Brushing Teeth
- Engage in movement and heavy work activities prior to tooth brushing.
- Try massaging your child’s face prior to tooth brushing with firm and maintained touch pressure as tolerated by the child.
- Use a shoulder wrap or weighted animal toy on the child’s shoulders whilst brushing teeth.
- Allow the child to sit down during tooth brushing to remove the added postural expectation of standing up. They could even sit on your lap for added deep pressure touch during the activity.
- Soft bristles may be easier to handle than hard bristles. But discuss this with your child as to what their preference is.
- Some children may enjoy the feel of a vibrating tooth brush and this can assist a child with poor motor skills as the motor planning is decreased. But some children may not tolerate the vibration.
- Have a mirror in front of the child so they can see where they are brushing.
- Warm water is more calming than icy cold water.
- Use tooth brushing songs, a timer or a sand timer to help the child know the end point of the activity.
- Use background noise or music to override the brushing sounds if your child is sensitive to sound.
- For the child who is sensitive to the taste of mint toothpaste, there are a variety of other natural flavours or mild mint toothpastes.
- Encourage your child to chew on chew toys or a wet flannel to help calm their touch system prior to tooth brushing.
- You could try brushing teeth during bath or shower time if they enjoy this activity.
- Brush your teeth together. Modelling behaviours to our children is wonderful in helping them learn.
- Talk about your teeth and their roles e.g. front teeth are for biting, back teeth are big for chewing and our canines are for ripping.