Helping kids with special needs brush their teeth

Sometimes, it’s an uphill battle getting any kid to brush their teeth, but encouraging children who have special needs can pose unique challenges. And because of ongoing oral-motor issues, spitting out water is a challenge.

Often parents are so overwhelmed with all the other simple duties of caring for a special needs child that they don’t put a priority on oral health and hygiene.” Sigh if that sounds familiar. The goal for children is to brush two minutes for twice a day.

Here are five key tips that make toothbrushing easier for kids with disabilities…and their parents.
1. Role play

Take a tip from pediatric dentists and try the “Tell-Show-Do” method of behaviour modification. “We show children—often on a stuffed animal—what we hope to accomplish and allow the child to practice on the stuffed critter to make it a fun experience. They get to be the dentist/hygienist.”

2. Tag team

Ideally, you and your husband can both pitch in with toothbrushing, especially early on in the process of introducing the habit to a child. One person can hold and comfort, and the other can actually accomplish the brushing and fluoride application.

3. Make the brush comfortable to hold

For a child with fine-motor-skill issues, toothbrushes can be adapted with a Play-doh grip, a bicycle grip or even a tennis ball.

4. Play a game

Try a smile contest: Let’s see who has the biggest smile! That way a child exposes his teeth for brushing. You can also entice kids with prizes or stickers. Make it a game, but always reinforce with praise.

5. Put on some tunes

Brush their teeth to their favourite music. The hidden benefit is that most songs last at least two minutes, so we got them to brush for a significant amount of time without getting bored.

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