Tooth brushing and visiting the dentist are two of the hardest things to do for our kids with sensory issues. The sheer thought of someone going into their mouths can be enough to send our children into meltdown mode. Here are some practical tips that can help both dreaded activities.
Make it feel better. To desensitize gums, and help your child tolerate using a toothbrush, massage gums with a rubber finger cot, Toothette or Den-Tips (available in many drugstores), use a Z-Vibe or other oral vibrator, or swipe gums with a washcloth.
Change toothpastes. If your child can’t tolerate toothpaste foam, try non-foaming toothpaste such as Orajel Toddler Training Toothpaste.
Make it predictable. Develop a predictable routine for when and how to brush. Help your child choose the brushing pattern. For example, they could always start with top teeth and to brush from left to right, front to back. A consistent brushing pattern will help your child learn to sequence this complex activity, help them to predict when and where they will feel various sensations (instead of feeling assaulted by the toothbrush) and help them feel proud about keeping their mouth and teeth nice and clean.
Visiting the Dentist:
Do a trial run: About a 2-3 weeks before your initial appointment, ask the office if you could stop by and take a tour of the office. This will allow your child to see the waiting room, and explore the office so that it is not a shock on the day of the appointment. If the setting feels familiar, your child will be less likely to meltdown on the day of the appointment.
Sensory solutions: Ask the office if your child could wear the lead apron throughout the appointment. The apron is very heavy and would serve as a weighted blanket, which is calming. Bring headphones for your child to decrease the sounds of all the equipment.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Call your local dentist and ask what they typically do for an initial visit and practice those at home (i.e. explore and play with rubber gloves, vibrating toothbrush, lying back with a bright light overhead). Going through these activities in a safe environment with help your child tolerate them in the dentist office.
For more ideas on practical solutions to everyday sensory concerns visit Raising a Sensory Smart Child.
-Larissa Ksar, MS, OTR/L