Tuesday, September 29, 2015
5 great tips for helping kids with special needs brush their teeth
Sometimes, it's an uphill battle getting any kid to brush their teeth, but encouraging children who have special needs can pose unique challenges. This, I know all too well. Max has oral sensitivity, which can make the act unpleasant for him (although he's had less of it over the years). And because of ongoing oral-motor issues, spitting out water is a challenge.
Oh, and then there's this truth from John Hendry, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Lafayette, Louisiana, who has served as president of the American Academy of Persons with Disabilities: "Often parents are so overwhelmed with all the other simple duties of caring for a special needs child that they don't put a priority on oral health and hygiene." Sigh if that sounds familiar. The goal for children is to brush two minutes for twice a day. Oh, and for the record: Studies have found that manual toothbrushes are just as effective as powered ones.
Dr. Hendry is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a membership organization that is sponsoring this post. Driven by the rise of tooth decay among children (40 percent of kids have it by the time they enter kindergarten, although tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable), the AAPD launched the Monster-Free Mouths Movement—a campaign that provides resources, tools and tips to help fight tooth decay and other oral beasts.
Dr. Hendry, also a founding board member and chairman of the Federation of Special Care Organization in Dentistry who has been honored for his commitment to kids with special needs, shares five key tips that make toothbrushing easier for kids with disabilities...and their parents.
1. Role play
Take a tip from pediatric dentists and try the "Tell-Show-Do" method of behavior modification. "We show children—often on a stuffed animal—what we hope to accomplish and allow the child to practice on the stuffed critter to make it a fun experience. They get to be the dentist/hygienist."
2. Tag team
Ideally, you and your husband can both pitch in with toothbrushing, especially early on in the process of introducing the habit to a child. "One person can hold and comfort," explains Dr. Hendry, "and the other can actually accomplish the brushing and fluoride application." Note from me: If you happen to have a third adult handy, he or she can pour you a glass of wine afterward! Tee hee.
3. Make the brush comfortable to hold
For a child with fine-motor-skill issues, notes Dr. Hendry, "toothbrushes can be adapted with a Play-doh grip, a bicycle grip or even a tennis ball."
4. Play a game
Dr. Hendry is fond of the "smile contest"—as in, "Let's see who has the biggest smile!" That way a child exposes his teeth for brushing. "The patient always wins!" says Dr. Henry. You can also entice kids with prizes or stickers, he continues: "Make it a game, but always reinforce with praise."
5. Put on some tunes
"We have been very successful with getting kids to brush their teeth to their favorite music," says Dr. Hendry. "One special needs class brushed to Michael Jackson upon arrival to class, and every afternoon before leaving to a softer, country song. Occasionally on Mondays I felt like they had not brushed since Friday's departure, but I was comfortable they were brushing at least ten times a week! The hidden benefit is that most songs last at least two minutes, so we got them to brush for a significant amount of time without getting bored."
Check out the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the The Mouth Monsters hub.
I received compensation for this post, but all opinions (and dental challenges) are my own.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 6:35 AM