Children may avoid brushing teeth for various reasons. If you are unsure of the reason behind the avoidance behaviour, chatting to your therapist can help with identifying the problem and working on a solution. Some children don’t like the taste of toothpaste or are unable to tolerate the feel of the toothbrush inside their mouth, the smell of the toothpaste or the sound of the brushing. Brushing teeth maybe causing them discomfort and/or stress.

Try some of these strategies and chat to your occupational therapist.

  • If your child finds brushing teeth stressful or becomes anxious, try a calming bath first or brushing teeth whilst sitting in the bath.
  • Some children respond well to motivators such as singing a song, brushing their teeth with their parents or siblings or having a musical toothbrush.
  • Try using an electric toothbrush, some children enjoy the sensation from the vibration or find it easier and less effort to brush with an electric toothbrush.
  • Using auditory or visual cues could help with timing or counting how long it takes to brush teeth.
  • If your child is a sensory seeker (chat to your therapist to work this one out)…then a vibrating toothbrush or moving whilst brushing may be of benefit.
  • Try a variety of toothpastes; your child may not be able to tolerate the strong mint flavours.
  • Try different positions if your child has difficulty relaxing and becomes anxious. Sitting in a beanbag or using a weighted lap blanket whilst sitting may help to keep them calm during brushing.
  • If your child displays significant avoidance behaviours to brushing teeth then you may need to work slowly towards getting the toothbrush near the lips and mouths. It is important to chat to an occupational therapist about these particular strategies as some children who are typically “sensory defensive” will require slow progression to brushing teeth and need additional support to achieving successful brushing.

This information is of a general nature only and does not constitute advice to a child or carer’s particular circumstances. Tip sheets are not intended to replace professional therapy services.

If you have any questions or would like additional information contact Grace Children’s Therapy on 1300 760 779.