Teeth Brushing

by Jacki
(N. Syracuse, NY)

This is my little guy, Caden

This is my little guy, Caden

My son is 18 months old,and has many of the symptoms on the checklist. I am waiting for a call back from an Early Intervention Program from the state, oddly enough, the woman's name is Michele Mitchell!! I worked with her a few years ago, as my 5 yr. old has high functioning Autism...

My question is... does anyone have any advice on how to get my little guy to let me brush his teeth? It is a constant battle, and takes 2-3 people to be able to do it for even a few seconds. I bought an electric toothbrush thinking that would help, as he likes to play with mine. (He has an obsession with toothbrushes and balls...LOL) But really really does NOT like that! So we're back to baby toothbrush but still a big battle.
Any help?


Hi Jacki,

You had the right idea having him play with an electric toothbrush, bummer that didn't work. Sounds like he may need a good oral desensitization program through his OT. They can work on some official techniques, such as the Wilbarger Oral Tactile Technique. Meanwhile, did you read my newsletter on sensory defensiveness (as this may give you some specific suggestion for the overall defensiveness he is experiencing) or Using SI Theory To Solve Problems At Home, that made some suggestions regarding this? Have you tried the following?

1. Experiment with different toothpastes.

2. Try to break down the aversion to the toothbrush by having the child brush with peanut butter, Kool-Aid, pudding,or other preferred foods as a game.

3. Use ice or pressure to the mouth before brushing to reduce the hypersensitivity.

4. Place a mirror at sink level so the child can watch him/her self and/or the caregiver brush their teeth.

5. Wear a weighted vest, hat, or neck wrap for 15-20 minutes before and during brushing their teeth.

6. Let the child do his own brushing with your watchful eye and modeling where to brush and for how long. It is less "stressful" and "painful" if he does it himself; less "invasive".

Also, the book Just Take A Bite has some good suggestions for treating oral defensiveness. It is geared for picky eaters, but would also benefit your son if he has oral defensiveness.

I hope this helps some. I would definitely work with an OT or SLP to address the defensiveness directly though. Meanwhile, try a few of these suggestions and keep working on it. He is not just being stubborn... he will need additional help breaking through this.

Take good care.

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Oct 07, 2012
teeth brushing and adults
by: Gabrielle Hogg

hi ya. i am a adult with autism with quite severe sensory issues. i hate teeth brushing can't handle it at all. any suggestions on how i can combat this. i currently don't brush.

Jun 25, 2009
Teeth brushing
by: Anonymous

Thanks for sharing the info. Speech-Language Pathologist are also qualified to implement oral-motor and oral-aversion programs. I find that playing with food, textures, temps, smells, chapstix, lollipops, a variety of toothbrushes (& paste) helps kids feel more comfortable with aversions, rather than an adult stuffing something in their mouth! I have kids feed and brushteeth with dolls. I will try some of your tips. Thanks, Julie Bobrofsky, SLP

Jun 11, 2009
Adult w/ SPD
by: @aspieteach

I am an adult with SPD and remember my dad having these same issues with me. Now I know that much of the problem is that I am sensory-seeking *inside* my mouth, yet avoidant *outside* my mouth.

For instance, I hate having water on my face and having toothpaste dribbling or even on my lips is torture! So I have to spit it out as often as possible. Electric toothbrushes were quite possibly the best invention ever, but I have to use the softest head because I could brush forever. I think starting with a dry toothbrush or only slightly moistened helps to keep the toothpaste from dribbling too much.

Jan 08, 2008
by: Jessi

I had to hold my son down for a long time too. I don't think I did anything too specific, just eventually the holding him down thing turned into a game for him. He would run out of the bathroom and giggle and try to hide, and I would chase him down and basically sit on him while I brushed. He still would be upset while I brushed, but the experience as a whole became more fun. Maybe try saying things like "I'm gonna get you!" and let him play "teeth brushing hide and seek". Then just brush wherever you find him. Of course, you have to keep using the kind of toothpaste that's safe to swallow. Getting my son in OT made it easier as well.

Now we have a Spongebob electric toothbrush and I tell him that Spongebob is gonna get him or get his teeth or be silly in his mouth. He'll sit on the counter for teeth brushing now. He occassionally whines or covers his mouth to keep me out, but usually getting him to laugh is my ticket to the teeth (and pretty much everything else I need him to do!). We had a VERY hard time teaching him to spit, and since he still won't always, I just use safe to swallow tooth paste. Not sure if this will help any, but I think if you can turn it into some kind of silly game, it will take some focus off the unpleasantness of the task.


Jan 06, 2008
by: Anonymous

I have a 36 month old son who was diagnosed with SPD about a month ago. He is a sensory seeker, but did not like brushing teeth either. I don't know if the pediatric dentist would aprove, but my son likes strong flavors. I put a little bit of my toothpaste on his brush, tell him to say "cheese" and brush as much of his teeth as I can befor he closes his mouth and sucks on it. We have gotten to the point where he now tries to brush is teeth after he gets a hold of the brush, so it is better than nothing. I also have brushed my teeth while he brushes his to show him. It is better than no brushing. Hope this helps you somewhat.

Jan 05, 2008
Will This Help?
by: Anonymous

My little guy (15 months) likes it when I make it fun. I tell him that I'm going to tickle his teeth, and when i am brushing them i say "tickle, tickle".

Good luck.

Jan 04, 2008
Same Issue
by: carra connors

I totally know what you're going thru. My son is 2 years old and has the same issues. He refuses to let me do it; I have to forceably hold him down which is becoming more difficult because my son is very strong. But it has to be done. I wish you luck and hope some have some great tips because I could use some too.

Michele Mitchell responds... You could help him with some good OT, including sensory defensiveness programs (i.e., the Wilbarger Deep Pressure Proprioceptive Technique or Oral Tactile Technique)... please talk to your therapist, as forceably holding him down may just make things worse. He needs to have the underlying defensiveness addressed.

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