Every Day Dental Care 

Provided by: The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research


As a parent, you play an important role in maintaining your child’s oral health. Helping your child with brushing and flossing, however, isn’t always easy. But there are steps you can take to make daily dental care a good experience. The key ingredients are patience and preparation: pick a place in the house where your child is comfortable; allow time for him or her to adjust to the dental care; have a set routine; and reward cooperation.

Getting Started

Taking care of a child with a developmental disability requires patience and skill. As a parent, you know this as well as anyone does. You also know how challenging it is to help your child with dental care. It takes planning, time, and the ability to manage physical, mental, and behavioral problems. Dental care isn’t always easy, but you can make it work for you and your child. Here are some tips for getting started and creating a safe, comfortable and regular routine for your child’s dental care.

Everyone needs dental care every day. Brushing and flossing are crucial activities that affect everyone’s health. In fact, dental care is just as important to your child’s health and daily routine as taking medications and getting physical exercise. A healthy mouth helps people eat well, avoid pain and tooth loss, and feel good about themselves.


The bathroom isn’t the only place to brush someone’s teeth. For example, the kitchen or dining room may be more comfortable. Instead of standing next to a bathroom sink, allow your child to sit at a table. Place the toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and a bowl and glass of water on the table within easy reach.

No matter what location you choose, make sure you have good light. You can’t help someone brush unless you can see inside his or her mouth. Positioning your body lists ideas on how to sit or stand when you help your child brush and floss.


Problem behavior can make dental care difficult. Try these ideas and see what works for you.

Try the “tell-show-do” approach to deal with this natural reaction. Tell your child about each step before you do it. For example, explain how you’ll help him or her brush and what it feels like. Show how you’re going to do each step before you do it. Also, it might help to let your child hold and feel the toothbrush and floss. Do the steps in the same way that you’ve explained them.

Give your child time to adjust to dental care. Be patient as he or she learns to trust you working in and around his or her mouth.

Use your voice and body to communicate that you care. Give positive feedback often to reinforce good behavior.

Have a routine for dental care. Use the same technique at the same time and place every day. Many people with developmental disabilities accept dental care when it’s familiar. A routine might soothe fears or help eliminate problem behavior.

Be creative. For example, allow your child to hold a favorite toy or special item for comfort, or make dental care a game or play favorite music. If none of these ideas helps, ask your child’s dentist or dental hygienist for advice.

Positioning Your Body: Where To Sit or Stand

Keeping people safe when you clean their mouth is important. Experts in providing dental care for people with developmental disabilities recommend the following positions for caregivers. If you work in a group home or related facility, get permission from your supervisor before trying any of these positions.

If the person you’re helping is in a wheelchair, sit behind it. Lock the wheels, then tilt the chair into your lap.

Stand behind the person or lean against a wall for additional support. Use your arm to hold the person’s head gently against your body. 

Find Support

Looking advice about dental care for your child?

Visit the My Child Without Limits support community and talk to fellow parents, caregivers, and experts about their experiences with the treatments and therapies in this section.


National Maternal and Child Health Oral Health Resource Center 

DC Health Resources Partnership, Oral Health (focuses on individuals 
with Developmental Disabilities)

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at NIH: 
Developmental Disabilities and Oral Health