If you have a child with sensory issues, you know that going to the dentist can be a huge problem. In fact, dental care has a dilemma for me to solve for both of my children. Amelia is terrified of latex (perhaps she’s allergic) so when the dentist puts on the gloves, she gets scared. She also has fluoride poisoning from her childhood vitamins, and that makes dental care extremely difficult – and it’s worse for Zoe, who cannot even stand to have someone’s hand in her mouth.
So how can you help your sensitive child get proper dental care? Here are some of the tricks we have used over the years:
- Find the Right Dentist
We were unhappy to learn about Amelia’s fluoride poisoning but it never would have been discovered had we not found a natural dentist. Ours uses both conventional methods and a holistic approach to dentistry, leaving the choice in your hands. You might also want to consider a dentist who specializes in treating kids with SPD or autism, but if you find a holistic or biological dentist, you can be sure that he has most likely had some experience with these patients, since moms like me want to avoid metals, drug usage and more. (In fact, I’m sensitive to this stuff myself.) Learn how to find a holistic dentist. And while dental care is important, you’ll want to be careful with toxins introduced by putting your child under. (Note that anesthesia can be dangerous for kids with autism so use caution putting kids under.)
- Talk to Them About Oral Hygiene from the Beginning
This is really important. Show them your dental routine: brushing twice daily, gargling, flossing/oil pulling. Whatever it is you do, don’t just show it to them, but make sure they see how good you feel afterward. And please, hide the nasty parts. They will probably run screaming if they see your gums bleeding after a hardy floss.
- Buy the Right Tooth Brush
This is really important and this is an area where I let go of my traditional eco-friendly/nontoxic concerns,. (I compensate by using a fluoride-free toothpaste.) Get them the brush they want. Case in point? We were in the store the other day and Amelia glimpsed a Monster High battery-operated toothbrush. She tossed it in the cart and I let her. She loves that thing and has been brushing regularly. (Make sure you keep toothbrush batteries fresh.) Zoe, on the other hand, needed a new one and we gave her a plain, pink, grown up one. I’m happy to report, she is now brushing her teeth whenever the mood strikes her. That is a huge win!
- Download a Tooth Brushing App
There are tons of apps available to teach your child properly brush his teeth, from those with timers to those that play music. There are even interactive toothbrushes that connect via Bluetooth to smartphone games, guiding your child to score points by reaching all the proper places in his mouth.
- Find Alternatives to Flossing
Flossing is one of my LEAST favorite chores in the planet. It’s painful, unpleasant and nasty – and I can’t for the life of me, figure out how to teach a child. (My parents did not teach me, a dentist did when I was an adult.) But did you know it might be unsafe? A friend who used to be a dental hygienist told me that the blood that comes out in your mouth after flossing is actually one of the more dangerous ones to ingest! Learn why the bacteria from flossing can be harmful. And some scientists agree – this article from Forbes shows that flossing may not be all that dentists crack it up to be. Instead of flossing, try mouthwash, baking soda gargling, a waterpick or oil pulling. Check with your dental provider to learn more about these options.
- Make it Fun
The reality is that brushing is a boring, dreaded chore but you can act like it’s fun. The best my kids did brushing was when I made it a group activity that we could all do together. To keep it fun try tooth brushing races, who can brush the hardest, brushing to music, and brushing in sync.
- Read “Sensitive Sam Visits the Dentist”
If you need more tips and want to educate your child, “Sensitive Sam Visits the Dentist” is a wonderful book about a boy with SPD who goes to the dentist. While I don’t agree with all the content (fruit flavored toothpaste? Oy.), I do like that it explains the entire process for a child. Zoe was listening even while she looked like she was wasn’t, as she said, “Brush your teeth” during our reading. It’s packed with hints for parents, too, and resources and websites to help you plan a social story around the book for your child’s dental visit. This is a great little tool to get your kids on board for the dentist.