Dental Hygiene For Autism
Dental hygiene for autism is one of those hidden issues that could cause your child real pain if ignored or overlooked. It’s a matter of a few things when discussing the steps to brushing teeth for a child with autism:
- Not getting headbutted in the face.
- Making sure his teeth are thoroughly cleaned.
- Keeping him safe if he suddenly gets aggressive.
Let Them Try Each Day
I’m one of the many parents that have an autistic child that won’t brush their teeth on their own. Despite this reality I have to let him try each day. Allowing my son to brush on his own takes a few seconds longer. I could just do it myself, and be done much quicker. That really isn’t a good habit in my opinion, because you never know what new thing they will want to pick up from day to day. Plus, you can have the school provide occupational therapy for brushing their teeth, and gain support in teaching this new skill to your autistic child.
In the end, I figure he can’t get any better at brushing if I do it all for him. Therefore, our ritual starts with him giving it a shot, and then me following up afterwards.
My son will somewhat brush his teeth. Since my son doesn’t like the dentist as it is, I make sure to finish up the job myself to prevent cavities. This supports good hygiene and still allows him to be a part of his own life.
Control the Body
In addition to healthy dental hygiene my tips are focused on making sure that everyone is safe as well.
What I do, and have done since he was a little guy, is put one leg firmly behind him. Bracing him in implies he needs to stand still, and it provides me a way to hold him still by pressing his body into the vanity.
When my son was younger I had to hold him pretty tight to the counter. This was because he would fight all the way through brushing. Years late and I don’t have to use very much pressure. My leg being behind him is more of a signal that we are starting more so than to hold him still.
As with anything it is a matter of persistence and patience. After the routine is established as a way of life, then the fight tends to fade away. At least in my situation.
If you have a pedestal sink, I would use the kitchen sink, or somewhere in the house that has something to press their legs against.
If you look at the picture you’ll note that I am mostly behind my son, and I am in position to have his head rested on my shoulder. My son is still smaller than me, but if you are smaller than the person you’re dealing then my methods may not work for you.
Watch the Head
Throughout brushing I keep my son’s head tight to my shoulder. I do this so he can’t whip around and basically break my nose. A swift headbutt can happen whether he is upset or suddenly gets excited and giggly. So basically, always protect your head, and theirs.
My son brushes his teeth for roughly five seconds, and then he assumes he has done a good job. Clearly this is not very good for oral hygiene, which means I need to step in and take over. At this point I ask my son for the toothbrush.
I think it is very important despite his being nonverbal and detached, that I treat him like I would anyone else. I communicate what I want instead of just grabbing or being demanding. Being polite makes tasks less invasive for him, and keeps things civilized more times than not.
My son will let go of the brush, and then I proceed to brush his teeth a little more thoroughly.
Pesky Brush Biters
One thing that you might struggle with is the child’s desire to bite down and suck all of the toothpaste off the brush before you get a chance to really scrub. What I do to avoid this is make sure to start up high on the back molars.
First off, the molars really need the extra brushing in the back. Plus it keeps the brush too high to bite down on before I can get some foaming action going with the toothpaste.
I stay high on the gums and work my way around the top and bottom. To keep my son entertained, I learned a long time ago that tasks like this, and bath time, go much easier if you sing. If you don’t like singing you could say some lines from their favorite book.
For teeth brushing it is a simple made up jingle I have used with my son for years.
Brush, brush, brush… all day long… brush, brush, brush while I sing this song… doo dar, doo dar. (repeat)
Doesn’t have to be fancy, or even good. What I found is that using different songs, that are repetitive, tends to calm my son. It almost gives him something else to focus on. The made up jingles become part of the routine to our daily chores if you will.
That’s pretty much it for brushing teeth.
Keep control of their head and body through the tactics described above. Then stay positive, and make it fun for them. If they fight, or you find either of you will get hurt, just stop what you’re doing, and let them leave the room. Safety and a flexible approach are paramount.
Of course the need to let them brush for themselves is important, if they are willing and able. But be sure to finish up after them to avoid the additional pain of cavities in their life.
When my son was younger, and his teeth were still tiny baby teeth I used to use the brush you see below. It worked really well, and helped with being sure to get each side of his teeth.
The special needs brush was helpful while we worked out our routine over the years. Now we can use a normal brush since he will typically stand there, and wait to be finished.
Like anything with an autistic person, it took many tries and variations to find what worked for my son. Remain flexible and you should be able to create a routine that works for your situation as well.