Children with special needs are more prone to dental issues, such as tooth decay, gum disease, tooth anomalies, and enamel hypoplasia, to name a few.

However, many of these issues can be prevented or managed with a solid at-home dental care routine.

But here’s the catch: for many children with special needs, sensory issues can make that routine a real challenge. Maybe your child can’t stand the feeling of a toothbrush in their mouth, or the taste of toothpaste makes them gag. Some kids might find the whole process overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to work around these challenges and make dental hygiene a more positive experience for your child.

Creating a Fun and Easy At-Home Dental Care Routine for Children with Special Needs

Establish a Consistent Schedule

Sticking to a routine helps kids with special needs feel more at ease. Try setting up specific times and a designated spot for brushing and flossing. When they know what to expect and when, the whole process can be more manageable and less stressful for everyone involved.

Try Different Toothbrushes and Toothpastes

Not all kids dig the standard toothbrush. You could try mixing it up with options like electric or 3-sided sensory toothbrushes. Here are some examples of 3-sided toothbrushes you can try: the Triple Bristle Original Sonic Toothbrush, the Forevive 3 Sided Autism Toothbrush, and the Patelai Autism Toothbrush.

Just keep in mind that some children might feel a bit nervous about using an electric toothbrush for the first time because of the vibration and noise. So, it’s a good idea to introduce the electric toothbrush slowly and let them get used to it at their own pace.

If your child is having trouble holding a toothbrush comfortably, you can try some simple adjustments to make it easier for them to grip:

  1. Tennis Ball Grip. Cut a hole on each side of the ball, then push the toothbrush handle through it. This creates a chunky, easy-to-hold grip.
  2. Band or Velcro Wrap. Think of this as a custom fit for the toothbrush handle. Take a band or some Velcro and wrap it around the handle. This isn’t a tight squeeze, just enough to provide a steady grip without straining the fingers.

If your child is really aversive to toothpaste, try different flavors of toothpaste—sometimes even using an unflavored brand can make a difference.

If they refuse all toothpaste, we still recommend brushing with a plain wet toothbrush, to remove food debris, sugars, and plaque buildup, and supplementing their diet with a fluoride vitamin instead.

Get Comfortable with Positioning

The bathroom sink isn’t the only spot where your child can brush their teeth. The key is to make sure your child feels comfortable, whether that means sitting down, lying down, or standing in front of a mirror so they can see what’s going on.

The most important things are providing support for their head and being able to see inside their mouth clearly, so make sure you have good lighting in the area you choose.

And when you tilt your child’s head back, just keep an eye on them to avoid any choking or gagging.

Family Support Matters

Bring in brothers, sisters, or other family members to show how it’s done. Seeing loved ones taking care of their teeth can motivate and guide children with special needs.

One effective approach is to use the ‘tell-show-do’ method, where you, siblings, or other family members brush your own teeth first to provide an example.

If Your Child “Clamps” Down While Brushing

A lot of kids like to clamp down when you brush their teeth, making access to clean the back teeth impossible.  We suggest having two toothbrushes when this happens.  Have your child clamp down on the first tooth brush with their back teeth.

This leaves an opening between their upper and lower jaw to slide the second toothbrush in and to brush the molars on the opposite side? Then, switch sides and do the same technique to clean the rest!

Add Some Tunes

Who said brushing can’t be a jam session? Playing some songs like “Brush Your Teeth” by Finny the Shark or “How to Brush Your Teeth Song with ToothRex” by Moonbug Kids can turn oral care into a fun activity.

Give Them Control

Another great way to get your child more invested in their oral hygiene routine is to give them some control over the process.

Let them pick their toothbrush and toothpaste, or even have a few different options on hand so they can choose a new one each time they brush. This bit of control can boost their interest and cooperation in maintaining oral hygiene.

Encouraging Dental Care in Children with Special Needs

Praising and Celebrating Small Victories

When they brush their teeth without any fuss, give them a high five or a cheerful “Awesome job!” Not only does this boost their confidence, but it also shows them that they’re doing something amazing for their health.

Using a Reward System

Think about what your kid really loves—stickers, an extra bedtime story, or some screen time? Use these as incentives for regular tooth brushing and flossing.

You could even set up a fun sticker chart in the bathroom where they can add a sticker after each brushing session. It’s a great visual way to track their progress and keep them motivated.

Consider a Therapist

Many children with sensory difficulties have benefitted from working with an occupational therapist skilled in desensitization techniques, which slowly allow your child to become more accustomed to tooth brushing sensations.

Collaborating with Your Pediatric Dentist

Children with special needs often face some extra challenges with dental health, so teaming up with your pediatric dentist can work wonders.

Regular check-ups aren’t just about cleaning and catching issues; they’re also the perfect opportunity to fine-tune your child’s home care plan to suit your child’s unique needs.

Read also: Dental Care for Children with Special Needs: What You Need to Know

The Bottom Line

We all know that making tooth time fun and easy for kids with special needs is a huge victory. It’s not just about preventing cavities, it’s about establishing a routine they enjoy and feel good about.

We appreciate parents out there for hanging in there, even when things get challenging. Keep in mind that every child progresses at their own speed, and those small successes really add up. Your commitment is what will make this a lasting habit.

Looking for a Special Needs Pediatric Dentist?

If you’re around the Lafayette area, consider booking an appointment with Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry. We also serve patients in Carencro, Broussard, Youngsville, Breaux Bridge, and the surrounding areas.

Our dental team has years of experience working with special needs patients, making sure they receive the care and attention they need in a cozy and supportive environment. Call us for any questions you may have, or schedule an appointment now!