Sensory Overload & Tooth Brushing

Best Tips for a Smoother Routine

Brushing teeth can be a mundane task for many, but for kids experiencing sensory overload, it can feel like a battleground. From the intense flavors of toothpaste to the bristles brushing against their gums, each sensation can escalate into overwhelming experiences. If you’re navigating this challenge, here are some tailored tips to transform tooth brushing from a chore into a more manageable, even enjoyable, part of the day.

Taste, Texture, and Smell of Toothpaste

Finding the Right Match: The market is flooded with toothpaste options, and while variety is the spice of life, it can be daunting when searching for the perfect match for a sensitive palate. Look for toothpastes labeled “mild” in flavor. Some brands offer flavorless options, removing the taste factor altogether.

Texture Matters: For some children, the texture of toothpaste can trigger gag reflexes or discomfort. Gel toothpastes tend to be smoother and might be less irritating than their pasty counterparts. Experiment with different types to find what feels best.

Scent Sensitivity: The strong minty smell of most toothpaste can be overpowering. Non-mint alternatives, such as fruit-flavored toothpaste, might offer a more pleasant experience. Natural toothpaste brands often have subtler scents and flavors, making them worth a try.

The Sensation of the Toothbrush in Their Mouth

Brush Selection is Key: Toothbrushes come in various bristle softness for a reason. For kids with sensory sensitivities, opting for an ultra-soft bristle can reduce the discomfort associated with brushing. Electric toothbrushes, with their consistent motion and pressure, can also be less jarring than manual brushing.

Desensitization Techniques: Gradually getting used to the sensation of brushing can help. Start by allowing your child to hold and explore the toothbrush with their hands, then their mouth, without any toothpaste. Progress to gentle brushing by the parent or caregiver, always communicating what you’re doing to build trust and predictability.

Dyspraxia, Fine-Motor Control, and Coordination Difficulties

Adaptive Tools: For children facing challenges with fine-motor skills, consider toothbrushes with larger handles or those designed for easier gripping. Toothbrush holders that stabilize the brush can also make a significant difference, allowing the child to focus on the brushing motion rather than holding the brush.

Step-by-Step Guidance: Breaking down the brushing process into small, manageable steps can empower children with dyspraxia. Visual aids or a sequence of pictures showing each step can provide a helpful guide to follow.

Heightened Pain Sensitivity

Gentle Does It: For kids with heightened pain sensitivity, the pressure applied during brushing matters. Teach and encourage soft, gentle strokes. An electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor can be a game-changer, preventing too much force from being applied.

Executive Functioning Difficulties

Routine and Consistency: Establishing a predictable routine can alleviate the stress associated with executive functioning challenges. Use timers or songs to define the brushing duration, making it a consistent and expected part of the day and night routines.

Transitions and Task-Switching

Warning Systems: Preparing for the transition to tooth brushing can help ease the shift. Use a visual or audible warning system to signal the upcoming change, such as a countdown timer or a specific “brushing time” song.

Choice and Control: Allowing children to choose their toothbrush and toothpaste can give them a sense of control over the process. Even the choice between brushing before or after bath time can make a difference in their willingness to participate.