Sensitive Teeth and Getting Your Kids to Brush

Sensory Issues Children Teeth

Kids who have sensory issues often are the first to complain about the temperature of food. If they enjoy an ice cream, they might get bothered when the cold texture of the ice cream touches their teeth or tongue. Similarly, this can happen with smoothies, popsicles or other cold drinks.  On the opposite hand, teeth can be affected by the heat too and some kids won’t like eating hot soups or drinking hot chocolate or tea.  there are several ways to address this issue.  Some people decide to stop letting their kids have cold or hot foods altogether. However, this is one of the worst things you can do.  It’s important to help overcome sensory issues by constantly trying to introduce new foods and textures into your child’s diet.

Are there any treatments available to combat sensitivity?

Otherwise, your child will never be able to get past these issues and expand their diet or break their texture issues.  What is important to do is make sure that the child isn’t experiencing discomfort or pain when trying these foods. There are several different treatments available for sensitive teeth at various dental office. One practice  specializes in sensitive teeth treatment offers a fluoride dental covering to help decrease sensitivity both in children and adults.  After one treatment, it’s much less noticeable and painful for a child to eat ice cream or drink something warm. Without this teeth sensitivity, your child will be more likely to try new foods regardless of the temperature.  Consult your family dentist to see what options are available to reduce sensitivity.

What other steps can we take prior to visiting our dentist?

There are other options you can try first if your kids aren’t a big fan of the dentist.  Many different toothpaste companies have their own sensitive line. You should look for one that is designed specifically for children.  Using this toothpaste twice a day will greatly reduce sensitivity.  Additionally, there are many kid-friendly mouth rinses you can try each night before bed.  Try to avoid foods that are extremely hot or excessively cold and stick to ones that have been sitting out of the freezer for 5 minutes, for example, if serving ice cream.  Slowly build up the tolerance.

This video has great tips for helping your kid brush their teeth:

The type of toothbrush that your child uses also can greatly matter. Let your child try out the one that feels the best and it can help if the design or color is something they also like.  Try to create a positive and friendly experience for your child as he or she learns to brush their own teeth. If it becomes enjoyable, it will be much easier to do on a frequent basis.

Getting Enough Fiber in Your Child’s Diet

There are many problems parents might face when they have children who are picky eaters or have sensory issues.  The common concern is that their child isn’t getting enough vitamins, nutrients, protein or fiber.  If you have a child who will only eat french fries and chocolate, you might worry about how exactly you can get the other nutrients that your child needs.  Fiber is one of the most important things to make sure you get enough of. Without the right amount of fiber, energy levels will be down. And if you have a kid who refuses to sleep but is exhausted throughout the day, you’ll know how miserable that can be!

Why is fiber important in a child’s daily diet?

By including fiber in your child’s diet in a way that follows their current eating plan, you’ll help them get the proper energy and nutrients needed to be active throughout the day and not “crash and burn”.  Of course, ideally their diet will consist of fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads, pastas, cereals and rice. But many children refuse to eat anything other than white processed bread and cereals.  If this is the case, you’ll need to find a type of supplement to use or “sneak in” their foods.

Fiber Smoothies and Fruit

For example, most kids have a drink of choice. Perhaps that is a juice, chocolate milk or shake or some other beverage.  You can mix the powder inside supplements such as Skinny Fiber offering an extra 5 grams of fiber per serving.  This will mix in with the juice or chocolate milk without them even knowing! It won’t taste any different but they will get the nutrients they would otherwise be missing. There are several different supplements available that are similar to Skinny Fiber but offer the same amount of fiber per serving.  Make sure to use the appropriate amount depending on the child or adult’s size and weight.

Are there any side effects of too much fiber?

It is important to drink plenty of water when using these supplements to ensure that the bowel movements are regular and to avoid constipation.  There shouldn’t be any other side effects if you keep your body (or child’s) properly hydrated.  Of course, the ultimate goal is that you introduce high fiber foods into your kids’ diet so they don’t become reliant completely on the fiber pills. Try giving a different fruit and vegetable each day. Also try making some of their favorite meals with a pasta or cereal that is 50% whole grain until they can tolerate or enjoy the full percentage.

What other ways can I serve high fiber fruits and veggies?

Additionally, new fruits and vegetables can be added that are high in fiber such as apples or carrots. These can be incorporated in a sauce, smoothie, ice cream or cut up. Try new variations of different foods that are fiber rich to create interest. Once your kid sees new foods that are full of fiber, he or she might be interested in taking a bite. Especially if they are colorful and presented well!

Meal Prep and Portion Control for Your Kids’ Lunches

One of the biggest problems that parents with kids who have sensory issues is meal preparation.  The majority of kids will chow down on almost anything that is served to them. But parents who have kids who struggle with eating foods that aren’t heated just right or that aren’t shaped a certain way know the difficulty of planning for a day ahead, let alone an entire week! We recommend that you start by jotting down a list of foods that you know your kids can eat whether it is hot or cold.  Then pack these items in portion containers to keep them fresh! If you are packing a lunch for your child to go to school, sending him with french fries or pancakes won’t be ideal if he only eats them when they are piping hot!

meal preparation kids lunches
Fun colors and fun meals!

You need to continue to feed your child foods that he or she already like during the day so that they will get through the school lessons without being fussy.  Leave food experimentation and trying new things for the times when you are at home with them.  That way, there is more time, less pressure and the children won’t be frustrated and hungry at the end of the day.  Additionally, seeing other kids with different foods might even push your child to want to try new things.

I decided to start using portion control containers that I received from an exercise program I own to pack in my kids’ lunch boxes.  The containers are colorful and each one stands for a different food group. It has helped my kids understand the different healthy food groups and how we need to try to eat foods from the entire rainbow in order to feel good and healthy.  Opening up the seven color 21 day fix containers helps my kid to stay healthy and to explore new food options that he might have disregarded otherwise.  We like to plan our meals together on Sundays.  And also to sort the fruit into the purple container.  Mix and sort the veggies into the green container, choose a protein for the red container, and so forth.  While he won’t eat or try everything, he has fun sorting them by color and this is helping him with his texture sensory issues.  The more food he touches and even brings to his lips, the better we are moving forward.  He has started to put his cereal in the yellow carbohydrates container and even eat from it!

That is actually some of the foods we will meal plan to pack in our lunch bag.  Cold cereal, fruit and a yogurt.  He still doesn’t like drinking water, but he is drinking pure fruit juices and milk so I am at least pleased for that!

By prepping in advance, not only am I making sure he is getting fed properly, but we are getting healthy together and slowly will get off the chicken nugget and chocolate diet he is currently on!

The Working Mom: Balancing Your Children’s Needs

I’ve had the great reward of being on “sabbatical” for the last six months from a full time professional corporate career. This has been such a blessing for our family as we work through Roan’s special needs and diagnosis.

Today we know he has SPD with auditory challenges but also we are working through acquiring special services and what other additional diagnosis and care he needs as well. It’s a journey and it’s been hard as you all know.

As I prepare to go back in the corporate workforce I have am trying to spend every last minute I can with both my boys. We have been having such a great time and it’s been wondering being a stay at home mom.

With Aidan’s Asthma and life threatening food allergies and Roan’s SPD it takes time and energy to balance both their needs and plan ahead for everything. We can’t even leave the house for a play date or the park without packing medicine, snacks, toys, lollypops, Ipods, balls, green items, epi-pen, etc…The list goes on. I often get the question…”How do you do it?”. “How will you this when you go back to work fulltime?”

Well I’ve done this for almost 8 years it just takes some pre-planning and extreme patience…:) I thought I’d share some the keys of my success to parenting two children that share “special needs” more then the average child. Also, this is a great reminder for me as I prepare to go back to work on what works well for my family.

Two parents with careers with children and balancing schedules, school, activities, appointments, homework, extended family and friendships certainly is an art. What we did is start off as a couple and prioritize what is important to us as a family and rank them. Some things just weren’t going to get done (i.e. messy house, play dates, all the many birthday party invites your oldest child receives..etc.). We highlighted one activity per children that felt “doable” and didn’t over commit the family schedule. Then we consistently used the four key success criteria’s below for our family to have everything work together smoothly.

For humor I like to highlight the business term mapped to the mommy term…;)

Keys to Success:

Business Terms = “Outsource” & Mommy Terms = “It takes a village” – Where/if you can have like gardening, house cleaning done by an affordable person or college student. Have a friend or Grandparent help out or fill in if you can’t make the drop off in the afternoon for the kids or need to take one kid to a class and the other can’t make it because it’s sensory overload. We have a rule that we try to balance our schedule so we can take on as much as we can with the kids but were we need help then we ask for the support of our network.

Business Terms = “Project Management” & Mommy Terms = “Pre-preparations of Food/Meals” – My oldest can’t have anything with dairy, casein, whey or by products . So food preparation is key. I use the weekends to prepare his special breakfast muffins, or go and get his special foods, cook things..etc. Shop and prepare as much as you can on the weekend so that frees up your week nights. Also, during the week prepare the lunches and snacks the night before for both kids.

Business Terms = “Time Management” & Mommy Terms = “The Family Schedule” – Have a “live” family schedule you both have access to at the click of the button. I do this on Google and it populates our IPhone and Droid. Also, be text ready during the day with your hubby if needed for the kids.

Business Terms = “Engagement Model” & Mommy Terms = “Quality Time with the kids” – When we are at home we are not working. We are “engaged” with the kids and focused on quality time with them. Not work. If we need to work then we get up at the crack of dawn or stay up late. It’s their time and they deserve to not have to share it with other priorities. It’s quality not quantity.

So as I prepare to go back to work I remember how much work it is to plan my family and I’m enjoying every last hour I have at home with these wondering little people.

Signs You May Have a Kid With Eating Issues

***You celebrate when your kid decides he likes a food, even a seriously unhealthy one, like corn dogs or chicken nuggets. At least it’s protein, you think, I’ll worry about his arteries later. Right now, you’re more focused on getting calories into the kid than on how healthy those calories are. And you just pray those multi-vitamins are doing their job.

***You hope that there are enough nutrients in ketchup to make up for the fact that he won’t touch a vegetable with a 10-foot pole.

***You have taken bribery and negotiation to a whole new level of artistry and expertise.

***When you have to go to a party, you always, always feed your kid ahead of time and don’t even bother trying to get him to eat at the gathering. And yes, you cringe and bite your tongue when Aunt Bertha makes snide comments about how spoiled your kid must be, and that in her day, kids weren’t given a choice, they ate what was put in front of them, because if the kid is really hungry, he’ll eat, all the while reminding yourself that Aunt Bertha never had a kid with autism or SPD, and she has no idea what she’s talking about.

***You look forward to summer with great anticipation, because fresh corn-on-the cob is actually in season, and it is the only vegetable your kid will eat willingly. For whatever reason, canned corn and even frozen corn-on-the-cob are not appropriate substitutes during the off-season.

***Reading nutritional labels has become a way of life for you, not so much because you are dieting, but because you’re desperate to find versions of the foods your kid will eat that have more nutrients and fiber and less sugar, preservatives and colors.

***The thought of feeding your child another meal is sometimes so daunting, you can barely face the ordeal.

***Though your child loves toast and cheese, he adamantly refuses to even take one nibble of a grilled cheese sandwich.

***Food that most kids adore, like mac and cheese, pudding, and spaghetti are not allowed on the table near your child.

***Illogic reigns in your house. Your child does strange things with his food, like eats all the cheese and pepperoni off the pizza, but will only eat the parts of the crust that do not have any sauce on them. When you buy cheesy bread sticks, however, he will dip them in sauce.

***You are so desperate to get your kid to try new food, you actually encourage him to dip it in chocolate sauce. In fact, condiments are practically the main course at many a meal. You regularly thank the culinary gods for blessings like Parmesan cheese, Green Goddess dressing, dijon mustard, and barbeque sauce.

***You envy those parents whose children will eat mundane foods (like soup and pasta) with a vehemence that is surprising. You also have trouble not rolling your eyes at those parents who whine because their “picky” children won’t eat onions or green peppers.

***Parenting magazines make you laugh when they give suggestions for helping picky eaters. The issues these authors address are so minor league, you can’t help but sigh in exasperation. If all it took to get your kid to try a new food was cutting it in fun shapes, you’d have had this figured out years ago!

***Although you promised yourself before having kids that you would not become a short-order cook, you now regularly prepare at least 2-4 different foods at each mealtime, all the while grumbling and cursing under your breath.

Anything you want to add?

Sample Sensory Diet for School

eating-at-school-with-sensory-issuesMany people ask me what a good sensory diet for school is, and unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. But, in light of how many people are interested, I am going to breakdown what we do/have done for Gabriel in an effort to give you a starting point in determining the best fit for your own child.

PLEASE remember that I am offering mom to mom advice, which is in no way shape or form medical advice, and of course, should not be substituted for your own good judgment. Now that you have my disclaimer, here we go.

Day begins (Gabriel awakes low):

Eat breakfast with input. Offer breakfast items that provide input, like crunchy granola, yogurt through a straw or chewy dried fruit. We focus on high protein and low sugar. Use weighted lap pad or allow standing (or any other at-the-table option) to make sure he finishes his entire breakfast.

Get ready for school. Dressed, teeth brushed, things packed, lunch ready, etc. This is all good linear movement for Gabriel, so I have included him in doing these things since he was very young. The goal here is to get his body moving and his blood pumping.

Heavy work (10-20 minutes before school). To get him the proprioceptive input he needs, I usually have him do chores (I am big on that more since he is older).  Carrying, moving and lifting chores like reshelving books, carrying laundry upstairs, pushing the dining room chairs in, carrying the trash, are all good options. Younger kids might require more ‘fun’ like a quick game of Simon Say, short obstacle course with pull ups, stretching/yoga/dancing, pulling/pushing with a door frame, carrying a loaded backpack around, or jumping on the trampoline.

NOTE: We do NOT watch TV in the morning before school. Gabriel gets too low, and even with his heavy blanket for proprioception, it is just a bad idea. I highly recommend against TV watching first thing in the morning. Just a personal opinion.

Bus ride to school. This is where individualized seating arrangements are helpful. Gabriel could very well be over-stimulated by the bus ride (too much noise), so we have him sit up front by the bus driver, and allow him a designated seat (eliminating the potential argument over ‘his’ seat). He is also first off, is always ‘line leader’ when he gets off the bus. Alternatives would be to wear headphones or MP3 player with quiet music to help control noise during the ride.

Waiting for class. At Gabriel’s school we had an accommodation in place that allowed him to not have to stand in line with the other children (think mass chaos under the covered area on the playground) and wait for the teacher to walk the entire class in. Instead, he hung out with the school custodian and ‘helped’ him. This provided additional proprioceptive input (heavy work) in a structured and quiet environment before Gabe started class. It made Gabriel feel/look cool and kept him away from the chaos and stress of noise, movement, touch and waiting. If your school doesn’t have an option like this (ask if your child can wait in a classroom or cafeteria, or somewhere else if you think it is beneficial), ask for accommodations that allow him/her to stand against a wall, be first or last in line, and make sure the supervising para-educator is aware of your child’s needs so they can keep an extra eye on your child.  This was HUGE for us — one of our neighborhood moms was a para-educator at Gabe’s school (public) and knowing that she was keeping a close eye on things was a huge help.

NOTE: There is a good chance that your child’s IEP or 504 has NEVER been shared with the para-educators. When Gabriel was in 1str grade (the first time) I would ‘volunteer’ during lunch and recess just to get to know the para-educators and be able to chat first hand with them. It was remarkably beneficial, as the first day I did, I found out that they thought my son’s sensory needs meant he was ‘hyper’ and needed LOTS of exercise. Gabe is NOT hyper. He is the antithesis: so, running all over the playground was exhausting, and hence, made him a mess in class all afternoon. I encourage you all to ask that the para-educators are given a copy of your child’s IEP/504 and that they are educated about your child’s specific challenges. (I also encourage you to do this yourself!)  The para-educators often have more direct contact with kiddos like ours during the day, and having them on board is a fantastic resource to you and your child.

In the classroom. Once in the classroom, Gabriel had the first cubby hole, so he was never fighting in a crowd of children to put his things away. He also had access to fidgets, clay, water bottle and gum (first grade) when he needed it. We set up his schedule, so that during existing breaks (natural whole-class transitions from one activity to another) he would be accessing his sensory diet with minimal need for direction from the teacher (this becomes habit, routine, and expected for the child, the teacher and classmates). Example: As the children finish their calendar time on the rug, Gabriel gets up, gets a drink of water (linear movement, oral input), and then carries his own chair from the rug to his desk for writing time (heavy work). Another example: After role is taken, Gabriel pulls the lunch wagon (linear movement) with a ‘buddy’ that sits in the wagon with the lunch boxes for added weight (proprioception), down to the cafeteria. Another example: When excused to go and get their writing folders, Gabriel knows to grab his clay and sit with it at his desk during instructions to warm up his hands (proprioceptive input and fidget toy). The point in all of these examples is that Gabriel is doing what he needs during the natural break times that already exist for the entire classroom. This enables him to not ‘stand out’ as he is getting the input his body needs.

NOTE:  I encourage you to be open about your child’s sensory needs at school.  I wrote my book, This is Gabriel Making Sense of School for this exact reason.  My son’s classmates were complaining to their parents that Gabriel got ‘gum’ or a ‘water bottle’ for what looked like bad behavior.  By explaining to the other children in Gabriel’s class why he needed these accommodations (my book is a great tool for this), the children became much more understanding. Kids can be cruel, yes I’ve heard that, but they can also be amazingly empathetic if we just give them the opportunity.  (A side, side note: Read this story about My Son’s Angel — a post about just that: understanding, compassion and friendship.)

Cafeteria. This is a hard one. And for Gabriel, this is where he starts to get UP UP UP, which means, this is the time he is going to have problems, hit, kick, meltdown, yell, etc. My best suggestions here are very similar to the bus. Assigned seat at the edge of a table, away from the doorways, headphones when necessary, and access to a para-educator.

Lunch. Packing your child a lunch is a great idea! Aside from the amazingly nasty additives that are in most school lunches, and the general lack of nutrition, it gives another way to add to your child’s sensory input. Just like breakfast, pack your child different food textures (if they tolerate this) and shapes, like crunchy pretzels, chewy granola bars, applesauce with a straw, juice box or water bottle with a straw, fruit leather, crunch granola bars with yogurt (a fave here), apples (whole apples give more input if your child is older and can/will bite them), dried fruit; craisins/raisins/apricots, nuts or anything else that makes them chew.

Recess. For Gabriel, this is the most unstructured and chaotic time of the day. Not to mention having social pressures on top of everything else. I encourage you to request that your child’s play time be monitored by a para-educator and structured if they are young (preschool-2nd grade). Offering your child something to actually do (Hey — join the soccer game!) is better for some kids than the free chaos of running through the playground. We had a recess plan for Gabriel when he was in 1st grade that he had to do his ‘obstacle course’ before free play: Monkey bars, hoola hoop, up the stairs, down the stairs, jumping jacks, etc. This was a great way to give him input, and the other kids LOVED to participate. It was led by a para-educator I had spoken with one day on the playground. Yay for para-educators!

Back in the classroom. This is when my son would come in high, and he needed options for quiet time. A quiet secluded area under a desk/table in the corner, a reading ‘bean bag’, dimmed lights (usually being under a table accomplishes this), quiet music via classroom CD player, or headphones, heavy blanket/lap pad for seated time are all helpful. Each child is different, but Gabriel was always so high at this point, that there was a good chance he would hit or yell at anyone that was ‘too close’ and definitely at any perceived social infraction (“He grabbed my yellow crayon!!”). This is a good time to avoid group activities and allow quiet independent work. If your child has access to the Resource Room, this might be a good time to go there to complete any major assignments.  It is also helpful if the teacher will plan more ‘hands-on’ lessons when Gabriel is low — too much pressure to perform pen-to-paper tasks, and he is going to meltdown.

NOTE: Some kids wake up high – and then end low during the day. This would mean that the two “classroom” sections above would need to be flip flopped for those kids.  It is so key to remember that every kid is different, which means that every sensory diet will be different.

Bus ride home. I encourage you to use the same supports and accommodations on the bus heading home, as you did heading to school.

Once home. When Gabriel arrived home, especially when he was in Kindergarten, he was crazy high – it was a mixture of him being overwhelmed, and letting loose after ‘holding it together’ all day. We used a weighted compression vest to add serious proprioceptive input (without needing him to te active/exercise), a weighted blanket (on his lap during snack) and lots of input during snack (extra thick smoothie through an extra thin straw). He wore the weighted vest for 20 minutes every hour until bed. It was VERY helpful. If you think this might work for your child, DO NOT just try it. Contact your OT for information and instructions. Every kid is different. Your child may benefit from quiet calm down time, low lights, soothing music, and plain old ‘down time’ as well.

My last advice here is to get everyone at school on board as soon as possible. If your school isn’t familiar with SPD, or even if they are (many know ‘of’ SPD, but are not as well versed as they may need to be for our kids to be successful), offer them resources to learn more. I suggest my book, This is Gabriel Making Sense of School, and of course using the Sensory Download (temporarily unavailable, check back!) that I developed with my Occupational Therapist that is a short cut for communicating your child’s sensory needs to their school – it has 100 of the most common accommodations for sensory kiddos and all you have to do is check the ones that apply.  Really, it is that easy.

I also want to remind you that most Occupational Therapists will come to your child’s school and do an observation. With the information they can provide to you and the teacher, you are much more likely to get an effective sensory diet in place in the classroom – be your child’s advocate, and be a resource for the teacher. You are all on the same team!