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Dental Health Resource Collection


These resources were developed for parents and caregivers to help children with autism prepare for dental visits. Content covers learning to tolerate tooth brushing, establishing dental hygiene routines, and getting ready for dental visits. There are also social stories for getting teeth cleaned, getting x-rays, and getting a cavity filled.

These resources provide information about how to exercise proper dental care with your child. These resources cover preparing for a dental visit, learning to tolerate tooth brushing, and establishing a dental hygiene routine with your child.

Developed by ASERT in collaboration with UPMC for You Dental Care Managers. 

Preparing your child for a dental appointment well in advance can build excitement and develop an understanding of what to expect during the visit. Consider the tips below to help your child plan for and visualize a successful trip to the dentist.

  1. Ask the dentist if you can schedule a tour of the office so your child can become familiar with the office location, waiting room, and staff.
  2. Take your child along with you (or with their siblings) for a dental appointment so they can watch and become more comfortable.
  3. Use a visual schedule or social story to prepare for a dental cleaning. This will help break down each step of the teeth-cleaning process. An example of a social story can be found here.
  4. Make the dental appointment when your child is less likely to be tired, such as early in the morning or following a nap.
  5. When talking with your child, use positive language about going to the dentist, such as “Today we get to make a trip to the dentist’s office to show off how great you have been taking care of your teeth!” Avoid words like “hurt,” “pain,” “scared,” “shot,” “needle,” or “drill.”
  6. Bring their favorite toy, blanket, or object to hold.
  7. Read books about the dentist with your child. Below are some suggested titles.
    • Brush Your Teeth! by Katie Marsico
    • Floss Your Teeth! by Katie Marsico
    • What Happens When I Go to the Dentist? by Lisa Idzikowski
    • Around Town Dentist’s Office by Adeline J. Zimmerman
    • Katie Woo’s Neighborhood Open Wide, Katie! by Fran Manushkin
    • Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Brush! A Pop-up Book by Che Rudko – geared towards younger kids

Dentists recommend children be actively supervised when brushing their teeth until 7-8 years of age. Some children may require assistance longer. The purpose of this resource is to assist parents and caregivers in helping their children become more comfortable brushing their teeth or having their teeth brushed. Consider a gradual approach as described below. This resource may be especially helpful for children with sensory sensitivities.

  • Start by providing gentle pressure to the back of their child’s head for five seconds and repeat that three times. Try this 3-5 per day, preferably in the space where your child will brush their teeth.
  • While most people brush their teeth in their bathroom, you may choose to perform the activity in another area of the home where your child feels more comfortable.
  • Once your child is comfortable with pressure on the back of their head, begin to extend the routine by applying pressure to other areas of their head and face, such as below the ear and lower cheekbone. Apply deep sweeping motions from the ear to the chin with your hands.
  • Apply pressure to the lower and upper lip and upper cheekbones with your hands.
  • Repeat the above pressure routine using a warm washcloth instead of your hands. While doing this, encourage your child to allow you to touch their teeth with the washcloth.
  • Once your child is comfortable with the washcloth touching their teeth, introduce a soft-bristled toothbrush without any toothpaste.
  • When your child is ready for toothpaste, use only a pea-sized amount.

It may also be helpful to show your child how you brush your own teeth or even brush along with them. It is important to remember that every child will have his or her own timeline for mastering each skill and feeling comfortable brushing their teeth on their own. Go slow! If the child starts to show signs of agitation, stop and take a break. Go back to a step the child can tolerate. Brushing should not be a negative experience.

The purpose of this resource is to assist parents and caregivers in establishing a dental hygiene routine with their children. It is important to brush twice a day, once in the morning and once at bedtime.

Start Early

Establishing dental care as a natural part of the daily routine will make the task much easier.

Reduce Anxiety

Choose a soothing place to brush that does not have excessive or harsh lighting. Make the experience as pleasant as possible by incorporating songs and toys. Make up tooth brushing songs to familiar tunes. Use the child’s favorite toys to soothe during tooth brushing or to show the process.


If your child is resistant to tooth brushing, try changing the toothbrush or toothpaste. An electric toothbrush may be helpful. If all else fails, try a warm washcloth. Children’s toothpastes are often less intense in flavor than adult toothpastes. Try various flavors to find one the child can tolerate. If the child cannot tolerate toothpaste, brushing with water alone is better than not brushing at all!

Task Analysis

Break a simple task like tooth brushing into smaller component steps. Once you have identified the steps, instruct the child one step at a time. This process is known as “forward chaining.” Reward the child by praising them for each step they can perform on his own. Click here for more information about teaching new skills.

Picture Cues and Social Stories

Take photos of yourself or your child during each step of the tooth brushing process. Use the photos to tell your child the story or process of tooth brushing. Read this story to your child every day.


Going to the Dentist Social Stories

These social stories provide a visual explanation of what to expect when going to the dentist, when getting a cavity filled, and when getting x-rays.

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Establishing a Dental Routine Establishing a Dental Routine pdf Download file: Establishing a Dental Routine
Toothbrushing Tolerance Toothbrushing Tolerance pdf Download file: Toothbrushing Tolerance
Preparing Your Child for a Dental Visit Preparing Your Child for a Dental Visit pdf Download file: Preparing Your Child for a Dental Visit

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.