In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, we wanted to spotlight brushing teeth! Dentists’ concur that for children all around the world, they should brush their teeth for two minutes, two times per day, floss, use fluoride toothpaste and visit the dentist frequently.
While that seems like a lot, brushing teeth is an important part of a healthy routine. Here at Therapy OPS, we have the opportunity to work with families whose kiddos may not engage in this tooth brushing routine independently. Before occupational therapy steps in, we consider the developmental expectations for brushing teeth.
So why don’t children like to brush their teeth? While we cannot answer this question fully, we have some ideas that may cause a dislike of this task.
Fine Motor: This can include your child’s ability to hold onto the tooth brush, squeeze out toothpaste, screwing the toothpaste cap, reaching all their teeth and gums, be able to apply the correct amount of pressure to their teeth and gums and more.
Tips for fine motor: Use pump toothpaste, use mirrors while brushing.
Gross Motor: Core muscles needed to stand at sink, being able to reach the sink, hold their shoulder stable while brushing.
Tips for gross motor: Use a step stool, allow them to sit while brushing.
Sensory: This is where it can become more complex. It could be one major issue or a mixture of these concerns. This list is not extensive. The feeling of the toothbrush itself, the texture/smell/look of the toothpaste, gag reflex, pressure of toothbrush, awareness of toothpaste on their face, wanting to bite the brush, the smell/look of the bathroom, frequent changing of positions, poor balance, misses mouth due to poor body awareness, the sounds/echo of the bathroom, swallowing toothpaste, not liking the tongue movements and so much more.
Tips for sensory: May benefit from an oral desensitization program from an OT as part of their sensory diet, allow your child to pick out their own toothpaste, try different toothpastes to see what texture and taste they prefer, try different kinds of toothbrushes (maybe electric?), try different bristle hardness.
To make this task little more fun for kiddos you could try to use a reward chart, make a visual schedule, use mirrors, use a visual timer, sing a song to them while brushing, and so much more. Kids are smart, make sure to talk to them about the importance of brushing teeth so they can feel more motivated and feel they have a bigger responsibility in their daily care. If you are looking for fun coloring sheets and information for kids, check out https://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/national-childrens-dental-health-month.
If you have any questions or concerns about brushing teeth, please call an OT at TOPS at 651-455-0561.