Families ask me to come to their homes and teach their autistic kid how to correctly brush and floss their teeth. As an occupational therapist, I know good tools can do half of my work for me (Shush: don’t tell anybody that it isn’t always my many years of training and experience that make the difference!). I thought I would share my best products with my readers.
We now have some fairly good studies that indicate that healthy gums support gut health, and healthy intestinal functioning is important for the immune system, nutritional absorption, and cognitive performance. Cardiac issues late in life can be related to poor gum health. Good (and bad) dental habits start very young. Get in front of this problem, and a child has an advantage that pays dividends for life.
Making an everyday chore like tooth brushing fun and successful has become a lot easier now that good tools are easy to find and use. But…you have to know about how autism affects self-care independence and what to buy to get the most bang for your buck!
Here are 5 handy tools that make teaching kids to brush their teeth and keep up the good work easier:
- Pump toothpaste. Most toothpaste pumps dispense the right amount of paste in a single press: a small amount. Toothpaste tubes are too hard for many kids to control, and too easy to play with. Pumps are less frustrating in many ways. They stay standing on the counter, instead of rolling away. A half-filled pump still pumps; a half-filled tube is an aggravating pain in the neck, or a mess waiting to happen.
2. A truly kid-friendly toothbrush. The Quip isn’t too loud, and it isn’t too long. It doesn’t vibrate intensely. Little hands don’t need a toothbrush handle the length of your grill tongs. This motorized brush is very affordable.
3. Flossers. Eventually using dental floss from a container will be the more ecologically-friendly choice. But neurotypical AND autistic kids can’t use string floss very well at first. Kids with autism often struggle to use string floss well into their middle school years. Or … they and their parents simply give up! These flossers have a thick handle that prevents fumbling and improves hand control, and the mildly flavored floss is motivating. Show a child them the package so they know it is a brand they can trust: their flossers are from the “crayon people”!!
4. A brushing timer. This one from LUXSWAY has a hand washing timer mode as well as a brushing timer. The music selections are familiar songs from preschool music class, and the light is entertaining as well. Kids just keep brushing (or washing) until the light and music show ends.
5. Plaque-revealing tablets. For those toothbrushing slackers out there, plaque tablets will show them that they didn’t brush as well as they thought. The competitive kids love to see how well they did, and the laggards decide that the fastest way to get out of the bathroom and go have fun is to ante up and brush like they really mean it. These tablets are small and easy to chew, and if a child swallows them whole it isn’t a digestive nightmare. I wouldn’t give them to a child that struggles with chewing.
Looking for more practical ideas for ADLs with autistic kids? Read Why Does Autism Create so Many Toilet Training Struggles for Kids (and Parents)? and Why Getting Dressed Is Such a Challenge For Autistic and Sensory Kids
Want strategies to start (or to finish) potty training your autistic child?
I wrote a book for you!
The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child : Sensory-Motor Secrets for Success is now available as a handy paperback on Amazon and as a printable e-book on Your Therapy Source!
Filled with truly useful things like a realistic readiness checklist and a resource list that helps you find the tools that make potty training a success, this book doesn’t ask you to fill in charts that you need a psychologist to interpret correctly.
It gives you factual information that makes all of your past and present struggles and the inconsistencies understandable, then guides you to success every step of the way.
Introducing…Collaborative Diapering and Targeted Pre-Training!
The revolutionary idea that you can use everyday things like diapering and playtime to build the specific skills needed to be ready for toilet training makes your life, and the life of your autistic child, a lot easier! Once you want to do formal training, you realize you are halfway there already.
Your teachers and therapists can learn these skills too. They become “Potty Coaches” without even having to take your child into the bathroom. They will still work on their IEP or IFSP goals while they build essential foundational skills of potty training for your child!