How to Help Children with Special Needs Brush Their Teeth and Maintain Dental Hygiene

How to Help Children with Special Needs Brush Their Teeth and Maintain Dental Hygiene - Boston Dental

Encouraging children to brush their teeth and maintain proper dental hygiene is a battle that parents have been fighting since proper dental care practices first came into fruition. In addition to teaching kids how to properly brush, floss and otherwise care for their teeth, parents also have to combat their kids’ desire to avoid such activities. If your children have special needs, you may then have additional struggles with proper dental maintenance. Integrating some advice into your daily routine can help.

Consider the Specific Needs

Putting all children with special needs into the same category is unfair and unproductive. Children who have special needs are as diverse as the general population, and your kids have needs that are different from other children with special needs. When you are trying to prepare a proper plan of care, you first must identify the specific struggles that your children face with caring for their teeth. For example, your kids might require you to physically brush their teeth for them, or your children may fight you about brushing their teeth at night. While creating a list of problems might seem overwhelming, this strategy helps you to brainstorm solutions that are specific to your children.

Address Physical Concerns

Depending upon your children’s needs, you may have physical concerns to manage before delving deeper into the plan for proper dental care. For example, your children may be at risk of choking on toothpaste or mouthwash due to physical limitations. It’s also possible that you need to be concerned about physical aggression from kids who are resistant to flossing their teeth or brushing their teeth at a certain time each day. Prioritizing these physical concerns can help you to create a plan that is safe and effective for yourself and your kids.

Speak with the Occupational Therapist

If your children have special needs, they may then meet with an occupational therapist on a regular basis. Occupational therapy is a field that can help with a variety of skills, and brushing teeth is one of those skills. In the event that your children do not currently meet with an occupational therapist, you should speak with your doctor to find out if such appointments would prove useful. An occupational therapist can provide you with theory and practice-based techniques that help your children to better care for their teeth.

Consult with the Therapist

Your children may also speak with a therapist about their struggles and their life experiences. When you are having difficulties with getting your kids to brush their teeth and to sit still at the dentist, you should speak with this therapist too for approaches to use. During these conversations, you may also uncover the reasons why your kids are having such trouble taking care of their teeth in the way that you would like them to do so. These struggles could relate to mental or emotional issues that need to be addressed.

Experiment with Brushes

You have probably seen so many different types of brushes out there on the market. Maybe you love all of the styles, but perhaps you have always felt the best with an old-fashioned toothbrush. However, keep in mind that just because you prefer this style does not mean that your kids do. When you are struggling to get your kids to brush their teeth, consider trying out some of the different styles of brushes. A fun style and color can actually help encourage your kids to get into better practices.

Choose an Experienced Dentist

Selecting a pediatric dentist is important when you want your kids to have good dental health, but you also must research dentists who have experience working with children who have special needs. It’s even better if you can book appointments with a dentist who has experience working with kids who have the specific needs that your children do. Taking the time to research such dentists means that the professionals will know methods to use to talk to your kids about dental hygiene and how to treat them in a gentle and professional manner.

Talk with the Office

When your children have special needs, you may want to let the receptionist know when you are making the appointment. For example, if your children can become aggressive when they are at medical appointments, you should let the dental practice know this information. An experienced office will have the necessary techniques and strategies in place. It’s a good idea to convey this information so that everyone is properly prepared for the appointment. If you go to the practice and a situation occurs that the professionals are not prepared to handle, all of you can end up feeling frustrated.

Check for Accessibility

The hope is that all dental practices will one day become accessible and that you will not even have to worry about this concern. However, for now, you should ask if the practice is accessible. In the event that your children are in wheelchairs, for example, you may need to ask how the work can be performed if a transfer to the chair in the dental office isn’t possible. Before you make the appointment, brainstorm a list of accessibility questions that you have based on both previous experience and past concerns.

Try It out

Before you take your kids to a new dentist for the first time, you might want to see if a trial is possible. In other words, instead of booking an appointment for a dental procedure, find out if you can visit the office. For some children, going to a new place and immediately having a dental cleaning or other procedure done is terrifying. When you have time to acclimate your kids to the office, they might very well feel more prepared when they go for the real appointments.

Ask What to Do Now

Sitting in the waiting room for an extended period of time might be a serious issue for your children with special needs. While you can ask what the average wait time is at the practice that you’re planning to go to, you don’t necessarily have a guarantee that this information will hold true on the day of the appointment. Instead, ask if there are any tasks that you can complete now. For example, if you are visiting a new dentist for the first time, you might have a decent amount of paperwork to fill out. Find out if the paperwork can be faxed over to you so that you could fill it out in advance and fax it back. Cutting down the waiting time can be helpful for your children.

Move Slowly

When you are really eager about getting your kids’ teeth into a better state, you might want to schedule more than one service per appointment. In fact, many dental appointments involve the completion of more than one task. However, consider how overwhelming this experience could be for your children. You could book a couple or a few different appointments to get all of the procedures in. Keep in mind that the situation does not have to be this way forever. As your kids get more used to going to the dentist and as they get to see that this experience is not a frightening one, you may then be able to schedule more services per appointment.

Talk about the Dentist</h2<

Imagine that you were taken to a medical office to have a procedure done that you did not know anything about. You would probably feel terrified. Now, imagine how that experience would be like for children who have special needs. While you may have some fears about talking to your children about the dentist, you should do so. You can talk about these appointments in a calm and pleasant manner. In fact, many libraries have books available for this specific situation. Reading books with your kids about going to the dentist can help to calm their fears.

Begin Now

If you haven’t already started implementing proper dental hygiene habits with your kids, you need to start now. In the event that your children are still quite young, you may be able to stop problems before they even begin. Think about the benefits of a routine for yourself. When you are in a routine, you may hardly even notice the activities that you once found annoying. If you can start to get your kids into a routine from when they are young, you may then encounter only mild and occasional struggles instead of difficulties every day with getting your kids to brush their teeth.

Consider Sensory Issues

When your children struggle with sensory issues, you should take into account the problems with brushing their teeth or otherwise bettering their dental health that they might encounter. For example, they might not like how a toothbrush feels in their hands. You can look into toothbrushes that are more comfortable for their grip. The sound of brushing or flossing teeth might also cause irritation for them, and you could consider playing soothing music or using headphones so that this disruption is eliminated or reduced. The taste of toothpaste or mouthwash could also be bothersome, so consider purchasing flavors that they love. Children can even have a role in picking out the flavors that they like.

Encourage Independence

While you do want to make sure that your kids are taking care of their teeth for the right amount of time and at the right times each day, you also do need to encourage independence. If you are constantly fighting with your kids to brush their teeth, both of you may begin to dread this battle each day. As long as your kids are old enough, provide them with the tools. Model how to brush teeth. Your dentist can also certainly play a role in teaching proper brushing methods when the kids go for their regular cleanings.

Use Comfort Items

Whether you are trying to get your kids to brush their teeth before bed each night or you want them to sit still while at the dentist, you should consider bringing a comfort item into the bathroom or to the dental office. Your kids might love to have a favorite book by them, or they may prefer to hold onto a stuffed animal. While these items might seem meaningless to you, they can hold a great deal of power for your children. Let your kids pick out their comfort item. You may want to provide them with a few choices if you feel that asking them to pick any item from their closet or toy box could feel overwhelming.

Implement Comfort Strategies

Your children might not have objects that they like to bring around with them, or they might not find comfort in this way. Instead, your kids may find comfort in certain routines or practices. For example, maybe you have noticed that drawing helps your children to calm down, or perhaps you’ve realized that they are particularly relaxed right after they wake up for their naps. When bringing a comfort object into the brushing area with you doesn’t work, use some of these comfort strategies to help them feel more relaxed when taking care of their teeth.

Get Organized

A messy and protracted process could be seriously frustrating for your children. If you’re always scrambling around looking for the toothpaste or the floss before your kids brush their teeth, they could begin to take on some of your anxiety too. Whether your kids have their own bathroom where they brush their teeth or they do so in the family bathroom, make sure everything is set up. When you have a few minutes, get all of the supplies together and make sure that it is in a special spot in the bathroom. This method also helps to reduce the amount of time it takes for your kids to get through the routine. Sometimes, children dread routines because these practices cut into their leisure time.

Sing Songs

While your kids can’t sing a song while they are brushing their teeth or having their teeth cleaned at the dentist, you certainly can. Think about the power of a lullaby to gently rock a baby to sleep. If your kids have a favorite song that they love for you to sing, you can do so while they are brushing their teeth. Another good idea is to use a song that lasts for the amount of time that the daily oral hygiene routine does. By doing so, your little ones have a way to gauge how much time is left.

Brush with Them

Your kids might be scared of brushing their teeth. While you might like to wait until right before you go to bed to brush and floss your own teeth, consider moving the time up a little bit to help your kids get into a routine. When your children see that you are brushing your own teeth, their fears may be reduced. Also, if your kids always love to do what you are doing, brushing your teeth together provides them with another opportunity to do so.

Evaluate Your Responses

If you roll your eyes when you have to take the time to brush your teeth before heading to work in the morning or if you complain about having to fit dental appointments into your busy schedule, think about the negative impressions that you’re making on your kids. While it can be difficult to censor everything that you say, do your best to avoid making negative comments about going to the dentist and bout dental care overall. When you are neutral or positive about these experiences, you may find that your kids are more so too.

Maintain a Healthy Diet

Brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash are all important parts of keeping the teeth healthy; however, they are not the only steps that play a role. Maintaining a healthy diet is also important when it comes to the dental health of your kids. Keep in mind that you should work as a family to eat healthy foods so that you are modeling appropriate behavior to your children. While you can definitely go out for treats sometimes, do your best to keep most of your meals and snacks filled with healthy foods. You should speak with your dentist about foods that are good for the teeth.

As a parent, you might feel frustrated with your current experiences when it comes to caring for your children’s teeth. In fact, you may feel as though you have exhausted every possibility. However, you can implement these tips to have a smoother process and help answer questions about pediatric dentists. Also, keep in mind that professionals, such as an occupational therapist, a therapist and a dentist with experience in this area, can provide you with valuable guidance specific to your children.

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