Sensory Processing Disorder Dental Care for Kids

Dental Care For Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder

Brushing teeth can be difficult for children and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Unfortunately, this often leads to avoidance of oral hygiene and visits to the dentist.

Children with autism or other sensory children are at a high risk for oral disease.

Sensory Processing Disorder Dental Care for Kids

A study in 2021 found that about half of children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) brushed their teeth only once per day and the majority of ASD parents reported tooth-brushing as difficult.

At home, children may be hypersenstitive to toothpaste or to the tactile sensation of the toothbrush. While at the dentist office, children can be easily overwhelmed by smells, tastes, sounds, lights and touching. 

We hope that these 15 sensory strategies will assist your child brushing their teeth:

  1. Consistency is important. Keeping a routine will help ease the anxiety for your child. They will know to expect brushing their teeth everyday at the same time.
  2. Choosing the right toothpaste. Some children want unflavored toothpaste while others want different flavors or fluoride free toothpaste. Have a conversation with your child to see what they'd like to try. (Our children each have their own preferred toothpaste flavor.)
  3. Finding the right toothbrush can change everything. Your child may want a super soft toothbrush or they may prefer using a vibrating toothbrush. (Our family has had success with the Phillips Sonicare for Kids. My two kiddos were motivated by the interactive app that made brushing more fun and encourage consistent brushing. I liked that the toothbrush turned off after 2min.)
  4. Be calm, patient and positive. This will help your sensory child be more successful with their dental hygiene. Praise your child as much as possible. They will require a lot of encouragement. 
  5. Try different water temperatures. Some children prefer warm water and other children prefer cold water.
  6. Rewards and charts can help with accomplishing goals for your child. Start with smaller goals. Collect stickers on a chart. Your child will be proud of themselves while seeing they are accomplishing goals for brushing their teeth and flossing. 
  7. Try letting your child brush their teeth in the mirror and watch themselves brush their teeth. Some children prefer to sit while others decide they like to stand more. 
  8. Finding the right floss can also be as challenging as finding the right toothbrush or the right toothpaste that your child is willing to use. Some children will prefer waxed floss and others prefer unwaxed. There are also different flavors for children too and unflavored if they don't like flavors.
  9. Timers are great for children who are learning to brush their teeth. Increase the time they brush their teeth by starting with a little amount of time to begin. They can then see a visual for how long they are expected to brush their teeth. (As mentioned in point 3, there are toothbrushes that come with built in timers that can help with this.)
  10. Try not to use threats for your child to brush their teeth. Making threats about cavities, fillings or trips to the dentist can be very scary for a child and may scare them or cause further anxiety when brushing their teeth.
  11. Learn how to brush teeth. This video by the American Dental Association (ADA) is a great refresher. 
  12. Using oral motor tools and oral motor activities can also help your child. When your child receives a Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis your child can meet with an Occupational Therapist to discuss your child's sensory diet plan and which oral motor tools and activities would be best for your child and what is age appropriate. Please always consult with a professional. 
  13. When making your child's first dentist appointment, try finding a pediatric dentist that is knowledgeable with children who have Sensory Processing Disorder or Autism. 
  14. Reading books and social stories about going to the dentist will also be helpful for your child when preparing them for their first dental appointment. We loved the Dora the Explorer Book "Dora Goes to the Dentist" Find it read aloud here.
  15. Consider a dental desenitization program to help with successful dental examinations. See this study from 2017 about the successful results from this approach.

Bring up your concerns with your child's Occupational Therapist as they will also be able to give you additional strategies to help your child.


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