With the changes to the dental care provision due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is important that we pay a little extra attention to teeth. Individuals with special educational needs and disabilities may find brushing their teeth a challenging experience due to their sensory issues.
For an over responsive sensory system, brushing the teeth can be an unpleasant sensation, it may hurt or tickle. Reassure the individual that you understand this and that you are there to help.
It’s time consuming
Two minutes is a long time to engage in a repetitive activity such as teeth brushing. Provide a visual aid such as a digital timer, sand timer, egg timer or a stopwatch.
Maintain a routine
Ensure that teeth brushing takes place at the same time every morning and evening. Offer praise and allow the individual to choose a motivating ite or activity to look forward to after they have brushed their teeth.
Mint toothpastes can present as ‘hot’ and may even feel like they ‘burn’ to individuals sensitive to strong flavours. Switch to an unflavoured, non-foaming toothpaste.
Individuals with and under-sensitive sensory systems may seek strong flavours. Explore strawberry, fennel, aloe vera, tea tree, coconut and juicy fruit toothpastes.
There are many different toothbrushes on the market: manual, electric, chewable, oscillating, sonic, chewable (Rolly Brush) and App linked (Colgate’s Magik brushing kit).
Explore different bristle firmness. Experiment with the shape of the brush a diamond head is narrower at the top and can help reach into tight spaces around the back teeth. Brightly coloured toothbrushes, toothbrushes decorated with favourite characters, light-up and musical toothbrushes can be motivating.
Let the individual choose their own toothbrush.
A desensitisation programme is a step-by-step guide to completing a task. By taking small steps (called forward chaining,) you can help to desensitise an individual to brushing their teeth.
Here is one example. After each step, offer praise and a small reward or motivating item or activity.
- Offer a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the individual to explore with no pressure or expectation.
- Progress to briefly and gently touching the lips with the toothpaste.
- Encourage the individual to gently rub the toothpaste onto one tooth using their finger or a small cloth.
- Continue to work forward in small steps gradually increasing the number of teeth having toothpaste rubbed onto them.
- Introduce the toothbrush, following the same steps (1–4) as you did with the toothpaste.
Things to remember
- Take steps back in the chain (process) if you need to and build back up again.
- Adjust the water temperature. Brushing the teeth in lukewarm water may be more comfortable than cold water.
- Always discuss any concerns or issues with your dentist.
‘The Dentist’ multisensory story
‘The Dentist‘ is a free, fully resourced, step by step multisensory story that uses story props, (low budget items found around the home), to tell the story of a visit to the dentist.
The poem aims to build the story explorer’s confidence to explore new and unfamiliar sensory experiences.
Repeating the poem in a safe and comfortable setting, can help the individual to become used to the props, preparing them for an appointment or encounter with the dentist.
This resource includes the poem, strategies to help individuals overcome barriers to their oral hygiene, product reviews (reviewed by a team of individuals with special educational needs and disabilities) and fun dental themed extension activities.
Rhyming Multisensory Stories have teamed up with our friends at oraNurse who are giving away silicone fingertip brushes and unflavoured, non-foaming toothpaste to ten lucky winners.
How to enter
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Victoria Navin has ten years’ experience teaching literacy, multisensory stories and communication interventions with pupils aged 3–19 with a range of learning needs.
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