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Tips for Tackling Toothbrushing in Children With Oral Sensitivities

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You might be wondering what oral defensiveness is and if your child exhibits oral sensitivities.

Oral defensiveness falls into two main categories: hyper-sensitivity and hypo-sensitivity.

A child with an oral sensitivity can be either hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive.

When a child is hyper-sensitive, they are more likely to have oral defensiveness. These children will not like brushing their teeth, they will not like washing their face and they may be incredibly “picky” eaters. Other typical behaviors would include being adamant about eating foods with certain textures, they may tend to gag frequently while eating, and may experience sensitivity to different types of clothing fabrics and textures. These behaviors will also include a displeasure for touching various textures that one would consider messy. There is increased sensitivity to oral input. This leads to even the slightest touch to be overwhelming, and sometimes perceived as painful.

When a child is hypo-sensitive, they exhibit behaviors such as being very messy eaters who often have food all over their faces. They can also be observed drooling beyond what one would consider developmentally appropriate. Children can also tend to put too much food in their mouth at one time. Excessive licking is also a behavior that children who are hypo-sensitive might engage in. While a child with hyper-sensitivity highly dislikes clothing with various fabrics and layers; a child with hypo-sensitivities often will enjoy laying under heavy blankets and wearing multiple layers. There is decreased sensitivity to oral input which contributes to heightened anxiety. This leads to difficulty with awareness of movements in the mouth.

While each situation and individual differ, it may be ideal to deliver these tips and tricks on a trial by error approach, as some ideas might be more helpful than others. Below you will find tips that can help your child become independent with tooth brushing and dental health care!

1. The DenTrust Specialty toothbrush is a three-sided toothbrush that cleans faster! It brushes all three sides with one brush stroke. The bristles are super soft, which help clean the gum tissue. This toothbrush delivers easier tooth brushing for overly sensitive children while providing complete tooth coverage.

2.  Flavored toothpaste allows your child to experiment with various flavored toothpastes and can be most beneficial when the traditional mint flavor is too overwhelming or displeasing.

3. For a flavor sensitive child, unflavored toothpaste may be the option! This toothpaste is free of mint flavor and other added flavors. This toothpaste was initially created for children with autism who were highly sensitive to strong flavors and taste. Does this sound too good to be true? Well it is not! This toothpaste not only has zero flavor, it also doesn’t foam which can help ease your child’s comfort!

4. Oral stimulating brush: For some children, the feeling of a toothbrush in their mouth seems painful and scary. To ease some of their tension and anxiety, a textured probe provides the input that helps with sensory stimulation within, and around the mouth. This can help the child “wake up” their mouth to increase oral awareness by the smooth, gentle vibrations.

5. Creating and displaying visual schedules can shown through pictures and visual prompts the sequence of each of the steps for tooth brushing. Feel free to personalize your story with actual pictures of your child performing each of the proper steps.

6. Don’t forget to check the water temperature. Some children may be sensitive to water that may be too cold or hot. Try to switch it up to see what your child can tolerate.

7. Does your child love a certain song or artist? Check out some musical toothbrushes that can sing your child’s way into improved oral health! Don’t forget to remind your child that they must brush their teeth for the full song! While some children might not be able to do a full song, even just one part of a song would work if there is heightened oral defensiveness. Any progress is great progress! Don’t hesitate to take this process at your own pace.

8. Have your child choose their own toothbrush. It might take more than one! If the DenTrust Specialty toothbrush is not for you or your child. The next best thing would be to allow your child to pick out their own toothbrush! They might be more willing to try and use a toothbrush if it’s their favorite color or if it has a cool design on it. Another option would be to have them choose two toothbrushes to experiment with at home. Have your child feel both the bristles and the handle to see which would work best.

This may not be an easy task and it may take a trial and error approach in order to find the best product! Be patient, positive and nurturing throughout this experience. And always remember that any progress is progress.

Happy Brushing!

A version of this post first appeared on The Sensory Space.

Getty image by Matt_Brown

Originally published: April 16, 2018
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