It is important to understand a child’s special needs and abilities, when planning and adapting an oral health care routine that ensures their oral health is free from tooth decay, disease and pain.

To successfully provide this care may require a lot of time, research and the ability to adapt standard oral health care practices to suit a child with an intellectual, behavioural or physical disability.

While dental visits are an essential part of oral health care for a child with a disability, the foundation for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums is to have an effective oral health care routine in place – one that is maintained and/or supervised daily.

Teaching kids how to apply toothpaste to a brush, brush, rinse and floss may work for some, but for other children, continuous supervision may be necessary for their entire life. And for children with severe disabilities, daily oral health care and hygiene may have to carried out by the caregiver each time.

However, establishing a daily oral health care routine, no matter what level of disability the child has, will be of great benefit to their oral health and wellbeing.

Caregivers face many challenges when implementing oral care into their child’s everyday life. Here are some guidelines that help make the task of maintaining a disabled child’s oral health and hygiene easier and more effective:

  • Conduct your child’s oral health care routine in a place that is comfortable and puts your child at ease. Ensure lots of space for children with physical or mobility issues.
  • Prepare all dental utensils (e.g. toothbrush, toothpaste and towels) in advance so that when oral cleaning takes place, you can focus fully on the job at hand.
  • Keep the oral health care routine consistent – that means same time, same place and same cleaning steps. This way, your child knows what to expect each day, and gets into the right habit.
  • Be patient, build trust and don’t rush the cleaning steps.
  • Provide lots of positive feedback to motivate your child into participating with more enthusiasm in the cleaning session.
  • Make brushing teeth fun for your child by introducing some props, such as puppets and toys, and playing a music CD to brush along to.
  • Always review your child’s oral health care routine to determine what cleaning methods and strategies work best, and what could be improved.
  • Make a note of any physical or behavioural difficulties your child is experiencing during cleaning, and consult with your dentist to work out the best solution.

Lastly, a quick word about toothbrushes.

If your child finds it physically difficult to grasp and handle a toothbrush – adapt it to suit their disability. Improvisation is the mother of invention. So, try to understand how your child’s hand/eye coordination and motor skills work, and then alter their toothbrush handle to suit.

For example, placing a thick rubber band around their hand and toothbrush can stop it from slipping out. You can also try attaching a pencil grip around the toothbrush handle to provide your child with a better grip.

Don’t forget your dentist – they can provide you with information about specialised dental products that may be of benefit to your child.

With persistence, patience and the right strategy – not to mention heaps of TLC – you can create a successful oral health care routine for your child for life.