It can be hard to get any child to brush their teeth properly, but it can be especially difficult if your child has special needs. There are a lot of additional factors that can make dental care a lot trickier, such as mobility or sensory issues. When you consider this, it's understandable why teeth brushing can be so hard for some children. Holding the toothbrush, the smell or taste of the toothpaste, the feel of toothbrush, the environment of a dental surgery - all of these things can be completely overwhelming.
In this blog, SpecialKids Company will give you some tips on special needs teeth brushing and dental hygiene.
Depending on where you live and your child's condition, you might be able to self-refer or have a member of your child's health team refer them to a specialist dental service within a local hospital. This setting is often more relaxed and the dental team has more experience of working with children with disabilities and the right aids to help them through their appointment.
You might find that appointments are arranged every few months. This is to ensure that no major dental problems occur because if a child with special needs has any serious dental problems, they may require undergoing a general anaesthetic, which the dental team will aim to avoid as much as possible. The dentist might apply a fluoride varnish to your child's teeth, which helps to prevent decay.
Consider trying different brands of toothpaste in case your child doesn't like the toothpaste that you use but is unable to communicate this to you. There are lots of different toothpastes available with different flavours, textures and colours.
It is often recommended that an adult helps brush their child's teeth up until the age of 7, however, if your child has a neurological or physical disability, they might need your help for a lot longer.
Some children are simply unable to brush their own teeth because they are unable to move their arms or hands in order to use a toothbrush. However, there are toothbrushes available that might help them to develop this skill. You should speak to your child's Occupational Therapist regarding the toothbrush adaptations that might help them, for example, specialist hand grips that make the toothbrush easier to hold.
In some instances, electric toothbrushes are recommended for children with special needs. The novelty and vibration of the toothbrush can help to encourage your child to have their teeth brushed.
If you find it difficult to brush your child's teeth because they 'clamp down' on the brush or do not let you have good access around their teeth, a three-headed toothbrush, such as Dr Barman's Toothbrush might be beneficial. These toothbrushes allow you to simultaneously brush all surfaces of your child’s teeth.
If your child regularly takes medication for their condition, check if it is sugar-free and if it isn’t, ask their doctor if they are able to provide a sugar-free version, particularly if it is a syrup. When you visit your child’s dentist, let them know what medicine your child is taking and any changes to it as this may impact on their dental care.
Social stories are a fantastic tool to help explain scenarios and develop understanding. This might be something to consider if you are finding it difficult to get an autistic child to brush their teeth. The visual cues in a social story will help your child to understand when it is time to brush their teeth, the process of teeth brushing and might also help alleviate any anxieties they might have.
You can create your own social story or a simple search engine search will provide lots of different downloadable resources online.
We hope that you find these tips helpful. Have you got tips or suggestions that have helped you and your child?
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Swimming is a fantastic inclusive activity to do with children with special needs. It’s a great sensory experience that is good fun and has positive benefits for both physical and mental health. It is also an activity that can be done all year round and doesn’t have to be weather dependent (depending on where you choose to swim!).