Dental hygiene is important for all children, but when it comes to children with special needs, brushing and flossing often falls by the wayside. It may be because your child has multiple challenges and it's hard to find the time, or there may be issues such as oral sensitivities or swallowing difficulties that make oral hygiene difficult. However, there are ways to overcome these obstacles and improve your child's oral health and overall well-being.
Set up the right environment to make the session enjoyable and encourage your child to be more cooperative. Your child may be more comfortable at the kitchen table or sitting on the bed than standing in front of the sink. Use a tell-show-do approach: tell the child what you are going to do, show the tools, and then perform the task slowly and carefully. Create a routine, starting at the same time every day and following the same steps each time. Finally, be patient. Just as with your child's other milestones, it may take time before oral hygiene is easy and comfortable for both of you.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. If the toothpaste bothers your child, or your child has problems swallowing, then you can simply wet the toothbrush instead. Be very gentle with all movements. Brush all sides of the tooth in a back-and-forth motion and then brush the tongue. If the child can self-brush, then you can help by gently guiding the child's arm. Adaptive toothbrushes with large handles are easier for the child to hold.
All floss does the same thing so try different kinds -- flavored, plain, waxed, unwaxed -- to find the one the child likes the best. Wrap about 18 inches of floss around the middle finger of each hand and then grip it between your thumb and forefinger. Gently floss up and down rather than in and out. Adjust the floss to bring up a clean piece as you move to each new tooth. If you have difficulty handling the floss with your fingers, try a floss holder.
If you aren't brushing at a sink, then have a bowl for spitting out the excess toothpaste. When you are done, help the child rinse and spit with plain water. If your child can't rinse then give a drink of water. For children with swallowing difficulties, you can sweep the inside of the mouth with a gauze-covered finger to get out the excess toothpaste and food particles.