Brushing Teeth for Children With Autism
As a parent or caregiver, you have to guide them through this process and make it as pleasant as possible. First, let’s discuss why it’s challenging for a child with autism to brush their teeth.
Why is Brushing Teeth a Challenge for a Child With Autism?
Many children diagnosed with autism find tooth brushing a very unpleasant experience due to sensitivity issues. Medical professionals categorize these issues into two categories: hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.
Hypersensitivity and Hyposensitivity
Hypersensitivity refers to heightened sensation and awareness of anything that goes in the mouth area. Children with hypersensitivity perceive tooth brushing as an over-stimulative and unpleasant experience when not performed correctly.
Hyposensitivity, on the other hand, refers to numbness or limited sensation in the oral region. Autistic children with hyposensitivity often feel anxious about the steps in the tooth-brushing process.
Whether a child is hypersensitive or hyposensitive, below are some tips that can make brushing his or her teeth easier.
Tips for Brushing an Autistic Child’s Teeth
1. Get the Right Toothbrush
A regular toothbrush may feel unfamiliar or foreign for an autistic child with oral sensitivity. So, instead of a regular toothbrush, find one with soft or silicone bristles. A gentler toothbrush can help desensitize your child's mouth, and in time, they will gradually grow accustomed to the sensation of having their teeth brushed.
2. Get the Right Toothpaste
As an adult, you’ve had years to get used to mint-flavored toothpaste. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for autistic children with sensitivity issues. In most cases, regular toothpaste causes a bitter or burning sensation in their mouths.
Fortunately, there is a wide variety of toothpaste with child-friendly flavors out there. You can choose flavors like vanilla ice cream, berry, and bubblegum. If your child likes experimenting with colors, you can also get them multicolored toothpaste.
3. Try Fluoride-Free and Unflavored Toothpaste
In some cases, toothpaste's flavor and foaming might cause sensory overload. So, instead of regular flavored toothpaste, go for unflavored and non-foaming toothpaste.
Since the major ingredient in foaming toothpaste is sodium laureth sulfate, your pediatric dentist might suggest a herbal or powder toothpaste as an alternative. Similarly, if your child has difficulty swallowing, it might help to start them off with a fluoride-free toothpaste before gradually transitioning them into fluoride toothpaste.
4. Try Flossing
If your child doesn't like using a toothbrush, flossing can also help them develop good oral hygiene. For the best results, let your child choose their favorite flavor. Apart from flavor, you should also consider the correct floss size.
If your child has widely-spaced teeth, then a thick floss would work best for them. Similarly, if your child’s teeth are closer together, consider getting them a thinner floss.
If flossing doesn't work, try other toothbrush varieties. For example, if your child struggles to hold a toothbrush, try placing a foam grip or tennis ball on the handle to make it easy to hold. Electric toothbrushes also come in handy in providing stimulation for autistic children with hyposensitivity.
5. Create Incentives/Awards
Verbal praises and reward systems work great in reinforcing positive behavior. Consider complimenting and rewarding your child once they're done brushing their teeth.
6. Do It in the Room Where the Child Is Most Comfortable
Autistic children can benefit from visual supports and schedules that help them associate toothbrushing with a daily routine. While you're at it, consider the child's favorite room and place all their designated toothbrushing supplies in that room.
The tips above will improve your child's experience when brushing their teeth. Now, let's look at how your child should brush their teeth.
The Correct Way to Brush Teeth
When you brush your child’s teeth, make sure to clean the outside, inside, and chewing surfaces. The following steps can guide you in properly brushing your child’s teeth.
- Brush the top front teeth five times.
- Brush the bottom front teeth five times.
- Brush the bottom back teeth five times.
- Brush the top back teeth five times (outside, inside, and chewing surfaces).
- Brush the middle teeth five times (upper and lower incisors).
- Finally, brush the outside surfaces of teeth and rinse.
Toothpastes to Try
In most cases, regular toothpaste doesn't work well with autistic children with sensitivity. That being said, the following examples of toothpaste have shown some very promising results with autistic children.
- Unflavored Toothpaste Oranurse - Oranurse is an unflavored toothpaste that's specially formulated for autistic children who have a problem with taste. This non-foaming toothpaste has the daily recommended fluoride and does not contain any traces of sodium lauryl sulfate. This makes it especially suitable for autistic children who don’t like the taste of mint and also patients with sore mouths.
- Bob Unflavored Toothpaste - If your child does not like the taste of mint, then this might be the best toothpaste for them. This flavor-free toothpaste is made from natural xylitol and does not contain any harsh chemicals. Like our previous pick, this toothpaste also comes loaded with the recommended daily fluoride levels to provide the best cavity protection, tartar control, and enamel repair. It also comes in eco-friendly packaging.
- Jack N' Jill Natural Kids Toothpaste - This toothpaste features a mild taste that makes it suitable for children who tend to swallow their toothpaste instead of spitting it out. It’s made from 100% natural ingredients like xylitol and calendula, which help actively prevent cavities and tooth decay. It also provides a soothing effect on the mouth and is gluten-free, fluoride-free, and SLP-free.
Best Toothbrushes for Autistic Kids
Finding the best toothbrush for your autistic kid can be pretty daunting. To make your shopping experience a little easier, we’ve reviewed two of the best toothbrushes for autistic kids.
- bA1 Sensory - This three-sided toothbrush has a 200% greater coverage per stroke and comes with very soft bristles to prevent sensory overload. The special expansion pleats allow the bristles to expand to different tooth widths, making it perfect for kids with oral motor issues. It also comes with an ergonomic handle that makes it very easy for kids to hold.
- CollisCurve™ - Special Needs Toothbrush - If you want to provide the best toothbrushing experience for your autistic kid, then you should probably get them a toothbrush that’s specially designed for sensitive gums. This toothbrush features flexible and gentle bristles that are sure to reach all your child’s teeth without causing them any discomfort. It also comes equipped with expansion pleats that allow the bristles to expand to different tooth widths for a deep clean.
· Happi Teeth Auto Toothbrush - If your kid doesn't like their regular toothbrush, why not switch it up with an automatic toothbrush? This automatic toothbrush is guaranteed to make their toothbrushing experience more fun. It comes in a hand-less design, which means they don't have to hold it when brushing their teeth. All they have to do is place it in their mouth, and it will do the rest.
Unlike most toothbrushes in the market, this toothbrush doesn't use bristles to clean teeth. Instead, it utilizes ultrasound technology which eliminates the sensory effects associated with regular toothbrushes. Its ultrasound technology also enables it to reach all parts of the mouth, providing a deep-clean action that actively eliminates plaque and bad breath.
The Bottom Line
Mouth sensitivity among autistic children makes it very hard for them to practice proper dental hygiene. But, with the proper technique, coupled with the right tools for the job, you can make your child's toothbrushing experience both fun and effective.