How to Help Special Needs Kids Win at Oral Hygiene

Published on Dec 16, 2019


Kids with special needs can present some overwhelming challenges when it comes to taking great care of their teeth and overall oral hygiene. Communication, behavioral and sensory issues all come into play.

Here’s some techniques used at the birthplace Dental Practice of The Harp Flosser where we also lead our community in caring for special needs kids in Houston:

Daily Brusher Already? WINNING: If your child is accustomed to daily brushing, YESSSS! The most difficult challenge is the sensory issue – having tools and new tastes in the mouth like toothbrushes, toothpaste and flossers. If they are not yet a daily brusher, set aside the same time every day that is just dedicated to Teeth Time.  Together, you have a Tooth Appointment. You, as a parent can brush and floss along so it’s something you schedule with routine, and also showing that taking care of your teeth is important for everyone at every age. And, it’s something do DO everyday just like eating healthy food and drinking adequate water.

How to Help Special Needs Kids Win at Oral Hygiene

GAME ON: Make a game out of counting their teeth and allowing them to hold the toothbrush and attempt to brush on their own so they feel a sense of control. However, keep in mind that
most likely you will need to follow up by brushing and flossing for your child. This may seem ridiculous to state here, but even if they’ve accomplished effective care, it’s great to get in the habit of just checking your child’s “accomplishment” and a great time for praise and recognition. This establishes an easier routine. Floss and Check.

PLUG IT IN: Using an electric toothbrush, or spin brush is recommended and will help with removing plaque and debris from hard to reach areas. If your child cannot tolerate the electric brush due to sensory issues from the vibration, then switch to a manual brush of course. But don’t give up:  if you are able to try to incorporate the electric toothbrush just for seconds and switch back to manual, you may be able to grow time and win at ‘the spin’ of electric brushes as you continue to introduce it. PLAY! Take a moment with the spin brush and show it goes around and around, try to replicate the noise, laugh and play with it on surfaces (post sterilize). We have used the brush on bars of soap to watch how it makes shapes and “decorates it” with images or lines and how great it works to also try to very slowly incorporate this tool.

USING WHAT’S EFFECTIVE FOR EACH CHILD: When using a manual brush, pay special attention to angling the brush at a 45 degree angle so that the bristles of the brush will slide up next to the gum tissue and allow effective cleaning at the gum line. While flossing your special needs child can be challenging, using a flossing device can make this task much more effective, and less difficult.

THE HARP FOR SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS: Try something new. The Harp Flosser was originally designed to easily reach all of the teeth, especially the back molars, with ease due to its 90 degree angled handle for kids WITH BRACES. Then, we saw success with special needs kids (with braces) love the colors and ‘weird’ shape of the Harp and wanted to use it with their parents’ follow up. Great!  Using a flossing device like The Harp eliminates the need to have your fingers in the child’s mouth giving them the sense of over stimulation and choking.

WOW: Then, we had parents of special needs children WITH NO BRACES who found The Harp to be a game changer when flossing their teeth. They raved The Harp makes the task of flossing easier, faster, more effective and less stressful for their child even though yes, The Harp is a tool originally designed for braces life. Of course we talk about The Harp, but the bottom line is this – Use what works! Try new techniques. Parents of special needs kids are incredibly special themselves and have taught our own team patience, new techniques of what works at home and also incredible stories of how their kids make their families extraordinary. Thank yoU!

GOT STORY? If you have a story of your special needs child that can help others, please email us or share on our incredible empowering Facebook community! We are inspired every week because of YOU!

Have a Question for Dr. Larry Caldwell, Inventor of The Harp Flosser and Fast & Easy Flossing? Email us, call us or share on our social media pages:  800-495-2783 or

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