Teaching children to brush their teeth is difficult for many parents, requiring patience and persistence. Although challenging, this skill cannot be overlooked, as oral hygiene can affect health, feeding, or even speech if a child develops a gum inflammation or teeth loss due to poor oral hygiene. Introducing daily habits of brushing teeth from an early age is essential so that this moment is not considered a chore but a happy, healthy habit.
Difficulties with tooth brushing can be caused by different reasons, such as sensory, fine motor and praxis difficulties.
Children with sensory difficulties may present with hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to oral input. Hypersensitive kids perceive the sensory input as pain and refuse to brush their teeth. In contrast, hyposensitive kids may fail to notice and require more stimulation to engage in different situations. Other sensory components may affect your child’s ability to brush their teeth, such as oral perception and discrimination, which your Occupational Therapist can assess.
Children with fine motor difficulties may have difficulty performing the task as it requires them to hold the toothbrush with the correct grasp and isolate their wrist and forearm movements to turn the toothbrush and complete the necessary actions. The child also must have strength and dexterity to turn the tap on and off and to open, squeeze and apply the toothpaste to the toothbrush.
Children with praxis difficulties may have difficulties planning and sequencing toothbrushing. As a result, they might look disorganised or perform toothbrushing in an illogical way.
To address toothbrushing, we’ve gathered some tips that might help you overcome everyday difficulties and make this mission easier:
- Let the child hold the toothbrush from a young age.
- They should try to do it independently, but it is recommended that tooth brushing is supervised until they are eight years old to guarantee their oral hygiene is done properly.
- Try different toothbrushes – Try different sizes and textures to support your child’s sensory preferences. Try a toothbrush with a thicker handle to help grasp.
- Try different brands and kinds of toothpaste to find the ideal for your child- The smell and the taste of the toothpaste might be a sensory trigger for your child. Using unflavored and unscented toothpaste might help to overcome this difficulty.
- Try an electric toothbrush – The vibration provides tactile and proprioceptive input and might help bring more sensory awareness to the mouth.
- Try different water temperatures.
- Sing a song, count down or use a timer to teach the appropriate length of time.
- Try brushing their teeth in front of a mirror to give them visual support. You can find the most comfortable environment and use a hand mirror. For example, try brushing teeth while in the bathtub.
- Use a visual schedule with step-by-step photos to brush teeth to support their planning and sequencing.
- Make toothbrushing fun – Create a game like “fighting the germs” and role play with dolls, animal toys and toothbrush charts.
Toothbrushing strategies should be individual and tailored to your child. The strategies presented above might not work with your child, so it’s essential to try them and find the most comfortable and motivational way. Your Occupational Therapist will assess the difficulties underlying your child’s brushing teeth skills and help you identify the best strategies to work with your child.
Brushing teeth is a skill we must complete for our whole life, so it’s essential to provide our kids with opportunities for success, aiming for their tolerance and independence. Remember that it requires your dedication and patience, but that brings a much greater reward: the health of your child. Please don’t hesitate to contact our Occupational Therapists for more information and intervention on your child’s teeth brushing skills.