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These tips have been contributed by other parents, carers and professionals. We hope they will give you some ideas to try, but if you need further help why not post a question on our forums or talk to our site experts.
Try using the soft toothbrushes that fit over your finger from a chemist or Mothercare. They are great.
To encourage Magdalena to open her mouth wide, I say we need to look for fairy dust/pirate treasure and exaggerate the size of the bits of food from the day. She enjoys this game!
Play it again!
There is a toothbrush here in Australia that plays music. You download your song onto it somehow the more you brush the more it plays your favourite song! Spinbrush
Cotton bud brushing
A good trick on occasions you can't brush someone's teeth is to dip a cotton bud in Listermint or any mouthwash and rub the bud around the base of the teeth and gums. Can help with reducing swelling in swollen gums.
Talking Ginger app
I found an app for iPhone / iPad called Talking Ginger which has really helped my son with ASD brush his teeth. It features a cat in the bathroom who repeats what you say. He brushes his teeth for two minutes, there is a progress bar at the bottom and it plays music. Well worth checking out!
Repetition, desensitisation, persistence
My son would chew on a soft child's toothbrush whilst I brushed my teeth and modelled the correct actions. He gradually got used to the texture of the brush and then the technique. Repetition and persistence were key, we did it every morning and night.
I find that if I let my son bite on the collis curve toothbrush and I start at the back of the mouth, giving his teeth a good clean is much easier. Also means I've got to the main teeth likely to end up causing problems should he get too distressed for brushing to continue.
Rather than a small child's toothbrush, I use an adult size toothbrush on my son's teeth. The head is bigger so you can cover more area quicker and the longer bristles reach down the sides too.
Going to the dentist video
We showed Tammy this video before we took her for some dental treatment: www.easyhealth.org.uk
We've stuck some laminated picture cards in our bathroom to help our son brush his teeth. They remind him to put toothpaste on his brush, use water, clean the top teeth, spit out and clean the bottom teeth and spit out. The spitting out picture prompt is good for him as he would swallow all of the foam in his mouth.
Dr Barmans - such a great tooth brush really does a great job for us. It's like the car washes brushes, gives triple surface coverage and works so well! Makes brushing my sons teeth really so much easier. www.dhb.co.uk
Collis Curve toothbrush
The Collis Curve toothbrush is great for people with oral sensitivity. It cleans all the surfaces of the teeth at the same time, using simple backwards and forwards brushing. Easy for carers and great for children themselves: Collis curve toothbrush
A different flavour
If you are looking for an alternative to mint toothpaste. Lidl does a herbal toothpaste, Holland & Barratts an Aloe Vera one. Its always worth having a look in your local major supermarket for different flavours like banana and strawberry.
Dentist role play
My son Alistair hated going to the dentist so much. I bought a stainless steel dental kit online and made a game of using the mirror, picks and scraper. We play to prepare him for appointments. Result! Ali now sits straight in the dentist chair and appointments are 10mins rather than 1hr.
For anyone who won't let you near them with a toothbrush - Fuzzy brush chewable toothbrushes are a godsend. Obviously no good if the person is likely to swallow but my son just has a good chew and gives it back! Fuzzy brush website
A cheap, battery-operated, vibrating tooth brush is worth a try. Great for oral sensory seekers, great for inducing calm in stressful situations, and much cheaper than special needs items doing the same thing!
Take your time
A dentist advised us to attempt to clean our daughter's teeth in stages as she is extremely opposed to having her teeth brushed. So over the course of the day, we will attempt a quarter of her teeth at a time. It is not so traumatic for her and means all her teeth get a good brush a day.
Our daughter barely lets us get anywhere near her to clean her teeth and will bite or clamp her mouth shut at the sight of a toothbrush! We've found gauze wrapped around our finger is a good way of getting to the front ones with little trauma.
Oral healthcare – general advice
For those who are reluctant to having their teeth brushed, try using two brushes together. They can bite on one of the brushes whilst you use the other one to clean. Also helps to keep their mouth open and give access to the back teeth. Worth trying an electric and regular tooth brush together like this.
I use a toddler tooth brush because it's nice and soft, with adult toothpaste .....then we make funny noises/faces in the mirror to get him to laugh. Works every time!
Choosing the toothbrush
Encourage the person you are supporting to choose their own toothbrush.
Put a tennis ball on the end of a toothbrush for a firmer grip if needs be.
Make it fun
Make the toothbrush more exciting by putting a bell on the end. Use rewards and stickers for good teeth clearning. Read books on going to the dentist, and use dolls & puppets in role play to make it fun.
Teeth the Musical
'Teeth – the Musical' is an entertaining training DVD about brushing teeth and the importance of dental hygiene. Produced by JUMPCuts and funded by NHS Somerset, there is also a trainer's pack and student workbook available. www.jumpcuts.org.uk/shop/shop/films/teeth_the_musical/
Relax with a head massage
Whilst doing personal care for clients with PMLD recently, I had one young man who hated having his teeth cleaned and would bite the toothbrush. One morning whilst washing his hair, I started to give him a head massage. He relaxed so much that the other support worker was able to brush his teeth for the whole 3 minutes.
My daughter prefers flavoured toothpaste like strawberry or banana flavour because she says it doesn't feel like it's burning her mouth.
GC Tooth MousseGC Tooth Mousse comes in different flavours, small tube, very expensive
but used occasionally, good for killing bacteria, as special needs often have hands in mouth. Brush teeth with normal toothpaste, rinse, then use mousse, you dont rinse the mouth.
Toothpaste that is recommended by special needs dentist is Kin. If you are having trouble rinsing out mouth, use a big syringe (no needle!!), and insert inside cheek. Also works with liquid medicines.
We got a little ‘mouth-opener’ gadget from our dentist for the hard to reach back teeth/gums because Gilly can’t/won’t keep her mouth fully open.
Like a dentist
We stand behind Duma and approach him from over the shoulder, like a dentist. It makes the brushing more gentle and you can see better than if both of you are bending over the sink. Play favourite music at same time.
Take your position
I sit on floor with Charlotte's head in my lap. Brushing her teeth in this position means her head is supported and not able to move around so much and I can see what I am doing plus the hand position is easier.
Hot, cold or just warm!
Instead of reaching for the cold tap (which we automatically do) try using WARM water. It worked a treat for me and Hassam, cleaning his teeth was far less traumatic.
Funky toothbrushes with timers
I have found that some supermarkets and toy shops sell toothbrushes that contain floating toys that light up in the handle which turn off after 3 minutes to indicate when to finish brushing; there are also musical ones around too which seem to be encouraging my son to brush his teeth more thoroughly!
Use a favourite song roughly 3 mins long to brush teeth to (spice girls wannabe is a good one!)
Susie has limited use of her hands to brush her teeth independently. She likes to squeeze the toothpaste directly into her mouth instead of trying to load the toothbrush as this is often a struggle. It ends up there anyway!
Find something that does work
Milly has sensory issues, she prefers to clean her own teeth using her finger instead of a toothbrush. We sometimes clean her teeth with a thin damp flannel with some toothpaste on it.
Fluoride pills for toddlers
We gave Jules fluoride tablets which we got from the chemist. They gave her good strong teeth as she was growing.
Make it fun!
John loves to be tickled, so I say we're going to 'tickle your teeth' and then he is quite happy!
Vibrating teethers (from TFH) have really helped our son to stop grinding his teeth. The normal teethers didn't work but the vibrations obviously give him the sensory feedback he is trying to get from grinding his teeth.
Oral care for people with feeding tubes
Clean teeth without gagging
For children who have poor swallow reflex / cant take fluids and food orally and have difficulty with choking when cleaning teeth – use biotine as does not froth like ordinary toothpaste.
Use an egg timer to time for brushing (3 mins).
More tips for oral care
The Good Teeth Guide
Find the right dentist
We found out that there are dental therapists who are specially trained to work with people with special needs & are free on the NHS. Most areas of the country have a Salaried Dental Service with staff who have experience and training in the care of people with disabilities and complex needs. Some areas will have a Specialist in Special Care Dentistry. These services can be contacted through the local PCT or through the British Society for Disability and Oral Health [BSDH].
Get used to it....
Start dental check-ups as young as possible. A good dentist will just examine a child’s toy’s teeth if the child is particularly anxious. The key is building up trust and confidence.
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