Both of my boys have a number of sensory aversions to many every day items. They are picky about what they eat, don’t love the feel of some fabrics or items (especially when they come in contact with their face), and even certain touch, such as a kiss on the cheek, can be unpleasant for them. Their sensory issues come into play each and every day, and self-care and cleaning are no exception to this. So, it is no surprise that oral hygiene has been a work in progress for us for some time now.
Brushing Damion’s teeth was a fight from the beginning. We had set up a routine right away to brush twice a day; at wakeup and right before going to bed. Pretty standard. Since this was a routine that had been formed, he would allow me to brush get a brush in his mouth. But due to not liking the sensation, the amount of time and quality of the brushing was often lacking. The time he would allow that brush in his mouth was limited, and he practically used his tongue as shield of sorts, which would lead to some areas being missed. Needless to say, the job was not being done sufficiently. No surprise when the day finally arrived that the dentist identified a cavity. He had to be put out for the procedure of course, because let’s face it, if he would barely allow me to get in there and brush, the access he would allow for the dentist was going to be even more limited. Unlucky for us, this all happened around the covid shutdown times so our experience was just that much more unpleasant. For those of you who remember the Covid Dental Work Disaster, you should know exactly what I am talking about.
After the mess and stress of having to go through all of that, I knew that we had to get better at being more proactive with his dental care regimen. Here is what we have done since then to help:
- Electric toothbrush
I NEVER thought that Damion would go for using an electric toothbrush. Based on the way he reacted to manual toothbrushing, I always just assumed he would not be able to handle an electric brush. But I decided to give it a go and did a few trial runs using my own Sonicare toothbrush on Damion. My Sonicare can feel pretty intense with the vibration (even for me), but although he wasn’t able to handle the highest setting that I use, I was pleasantly surprised with how well he did at the lowest setting. After an extended period of time, it even seems like using the electric toothbrush has helped to de-sensitize him a bit to the whole brushing process. Not every electric toothbrush is made the same, and I would recommend you get a high quality one for them to get used to right off the bat. Even on the lowest setting, a good electric toothbrush will give a much more thorough cleaning than a manual.
2. Add in a mid-day brush
This is something that I actually got from his school. His special education class often works on various life skills at school and one of those life skills is tooth brushing. So, every day after lunch he brushes his teeth. He still uses a manual brush at school, because that is what they have on hand, but that’s not a big deal since it is just an “bonus” brush and not a replacement.
Dental Visit Prep
- Dental Practice Options
First off, I would highly recommend you look into a dentist office that specializes in children. I was lucky to find a great pediatric practice that offers just that, and also is well versed in the area of children with special needs, such as autism. In my experience, pediatric offices tend to be far more patient and accommodating for the sensory issues our kiddos face. Not to mention, there whole set up is designed exclusively for children. Our dentist in particular has a waiting room set up with toys and video games for the kids (see photo above), they play cartoon movies on a loop throughout the office (including on tv screens that lay right about the dental chairs), they allot extra time to settle the child in, and they give out small prize rewards at the conclusion of the session. On top of all this, if your child does end up needing those procedures that we all dread (such as a filling), they have additional setups in place, such as ways to schedule for local anesthesia, to get through it all.
2. Dental Hygienist
Cleanings by the hygienist are still a work in progress for Damion, but we have come a very long way. This past visit was Damion’s first time letting them do anything other than just take a VERY quick look in his mouth. He actually allowed the hygienist to use the electric brushing tool on his teeth and he was able to use their water rinse as well. I think this progress was in one part because he has gotten used to that electric brush at home, so their brushing tool was not such a huge difference. The other thing that I think has really helped us is item number three.
3. Video Training
This is basically just as it sounds and is a trick I have started using over the past few years. We watch a video that portrays what to expect at the visit that we will be going to. This trick works well for doctor appointments, dentist appointments, you name it. I either try to find a video online of a kid going through the steps of visiting the dentist office (kind of like a video social story), or better yet, I have found that allowing Damion to watch videos of himself seems to help him even more. So, for the past few visits we had videotaped his appointment (the best I could at least while assisting him as well). Before his visits we watch the video of him, with his dentist that he will be seeing and is already familiar with, and we talk about what he is supposed to do. Using this method has really helped Damion relax a bit at his visits and we have seen continued improvements in his cooperation each time we go.
We still have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to Damion’s dental hygiene regimen. As of right now, most of the at home brushing is still being done by me, primarily out of my fear that it will not be done correctly otherwise. But we will continue to work toward Damion brushing himself, even if it means that he starts the process and I finish, or vice versa. I also have hopes that by continuing to utilize the methods mentioned above, we can work our way up to a full cleaning at the dentist office one day. Even with all the work to be done still, the progress he has made is evident and we are proud of how far he has come to conquer this particular sensory aversion. Damion has always had a smile that could light up a room and this momma here is determined to make sure that smile is equally has healthy as it is beautiful.