Encouraging toothbrushing when your child has sensory issues…or just being a pain in the a**e!!!

As the title says sometimes J doesn’t like having his teeth brushed because he doesn’t like the feeling of the toothbrush in his mouth and the texture of toothpaste…sometimes he’s just a pain who would rather be running around naked on the landing (I can’t blame everything of his additional needs haha).

Last week we spoke to the occupational therapist about this as I am worried that he’ll get poorly teeth if I can’t brush them, especially  the back ones. J has his first dentist visit booked in this month and I’d rather avoid a telling off!

Here are some hints and tips:

  • Try an electric toothbrush. For some children they find the vibrations relaxing. J is better with his electric ‘planes’ toothbrush but still doesn’t like his teeth brushed-but it’s part of the battle solved.
  • Try a damp cloth with toothpaste on it if child realllllly doesn’t want to tolerate the toothbrush.
  • Let the child play with the brush and ‘have a go’. J likes this but tends to just do the front teeth or suck the brush…but it’s ok his mouth so that’s something.
  • Use symbol cards so your child can see what is happening e.g.: toothpaste on brush, toothbrush in mouth, brush teeth etc etc. This helps them to see there is a beginning and end and a predictable pattern to follow. 
  • Make a social story (or look for books about toothbrushing). This can help to ‘normalise’ toothbrushing and reinforce what to do, how to do it etc. 
  • visit the dentist regularly. This will encourage healthy habits and the dentist can double check that there’s no dental issue making toothbrushing uncomfortable.

Another bit of advice we tried and has REALLY helped was using a video on YouTube to work as sensory distraction. J is very visual and so this suited him. I looked on youtube and listened to a few. I choose one that’s just over 2 minutes and is to a well known tune. I brush J’s tooth whilst he watches it and so far it has distracted him long enough to let me brush his whole mouth. The first couple of nights we only made the first minute but now we watched the whole song so it’s becoming part of the routine now. It helps J to know when it’s nearly over.

One fail we had was changing toothpaste. We thought having Paw Patrol toothpaste would help but it really didn’t! J did not like the fruit taste and refused to have anything to do with it so we are back to our usual toothpaste and all is good in the world.

There’s more dental advice here on Live Well website but your Health Visitor, dentist or occupational therapist should be able to give you more advice.

I would love to hear any hints and tips that have worked for you? 


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