It has been a blazing hot summer, which means cooling off with popsicles, soda pop, and ice cream! Ahhh…
Unfortunately, those treats are hard on teeth, and during the lazy days of summer, brushing is usually a struggle, especially for families affected by special needs. Many weary moms confide that dental hygiene often gets dropped.
I know it’s hard, believe me, but I offer over a dozen ways to “Keep it up!”
Dentists recommend a new toothbrush every 3-4 months, so notice if your child’s toothbrush bristles are frayed and bent, and realize that invisible germs have also likely accumulated. Time to swap. I know parents and care providers of individuals with special needs are mega-busy, but please don’t wait for “freebies” from your clinic. A fun and easy tradition I did was slipping a new toothbrush in Christmas stockings, Easter baskets, or attaching one to birthday gifts.
Stand up: Please teach your family to stand their toothbrush upright to dry in their own cup, to keep the head cleaner. To some individuals with intellectual or vision impairments — like my Heidi — most toothbrushes honestly look alike, so this simple habit helps prevent mix-ups.
Test up: Try alternative toothbrushes. One of our daughters loved the spinning bristles, one hated the sonic style, and for Heidi, we used a kids’ battery-operated style (with less vibration). Currently, Miss Heidi is “hesitantly accepting” the soft little pink sponge style with paste already in it.
Stock up: If your loved one with special needs is prone to illness, remember, a new toothbrush will help prevent reintroducing old germs back into their mouth. Have some new ones on hand, and toss the old bacteria-infested brush after an illness.
Read up: Fluoride is part of traditional dental plans, but powerful research on this has both professionals and parents concerned. Fluoride is actually a waste product from the phosphate fertilizer industry, and many consider it poison, because when over-ingested, it has caused serious symptoms, including death. If a child accidentally eats a mere half tube of cherry-flavored kids paste fluoride, it could result in health problems. Let’s remember a common trait among disabled individuals is seeking out sensory experiences by “mouthing” (putting things in the mouth to feel, lick, or eat virtually everything!), so fluoride products are problematic. Study up. Also find out the fluoride amount in your water, and consider filters.
Swap up: I opt out of dental products with industrial fluoride for Heidi, and buy toothpaste with safe ingredients from health food stores. While there, I also pick up Hyland’s Calc Flor – Cell Salts (like tiny homeopathy pellets, which melt under the tongue) to naturally strengthen our dental enamel.
Whip up: Did your grandparents dip a wet toothbrush into a small container of salt with baking soda as their dental cleaner? You can also create chemical-free toothpaste for your unique family with easy recipes online. My friend uses a coconut oil base and stirs in Redmond clay (bentonite powder), and then adds an essential oil, like wintergreen, cinnamon, or peppermint for flavor/benefits.
Gear up: Before you begin brushing with your child, try to have whatever is needed for success. Do they need a foot stool? Timer? Favorite cup? Afterwards, have your child mark their progress chart to maintain incentive.
Start up: Savvy dentists are requesting people change the starting locations in the mouth when beginning to brush. They’ve noticed that people generally begin to brush in the very same spot each time, and by the end of their task, frequently don’t do certain areas thoroughly, or completely skip them. Hygienists also indicate we need to pay more attention to the inner side of our teeth.
Lighten up: Dentists advise soft-bristled brushes, using circular motions. Brushing with too much pressure isn’t helpful, plus, it can aggravate bleeding gums. In his incredible book Nutrition and Mental Illness, Carl C. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D. indicates vitamin B and zinc supplements helped bleeding gums in his patients with complex special-needs.
Swish up: Xylitol (Zy-li-tol) is a terrific non-chemical ingredient used in some toothpastes and mouthwashes available in health food stores. When brushing isn’t available, a dental chewing gum containing Xylitol is a helpful option. Unfortunately, Heidi would never chew gum.
Time up: The recommended brushing time is two minutes, so a small sand dial, kitchen timer, digital watch, or cell phone feature may help. You could even use a pleasant two-minute song to keep it going.
Put up: Some families store their toothbrushes away from the toilet, because every flush activates tiny beads of water with germs into the air, which eventually could land on (and contaminate) toothbrushes nearby. Consider alternatives like a bathroom cupboard. Heidi’s sweet, frail grandma stored her toothbrush in the hall, and occasionally, poured a little rubbing alcohol over it to reduce bacteria.
Pass up: When brushing goals are reached, rewards motivate momentum. Parents, please practice “tough love” and skip the ice-cream parlor, candy, or donut shop for healthier activities at the park, zoo, or lake instead.
Let’s empower the people we care for to take the high road, and with time and consistency, create strong, beautiful teeth.
Elayne Pearson, C.A.S., Special-needs Preparedness Specialist, is an author, natural health advocate, and national speaker. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or hiddentreasuresofhealth on Instagram.