When it's time to brush, children may firmly clamp their mouth shut and shake their heads. It could be a stubborn phase, or it could be that their teeth are sensitive and brushing causes them pain. In some cases, kids develop sensitive teeth for the same reasons adults do. But for some kids, the sensitivity might be connected to another condition, such as autism. Figuring out what to use for sensitive teeth means figuring out what the cause of the sensitivity is.
Getting to the Root of the Matter
Although people are more likely to have sensitive teeth between the ages of 25 and 30, according to the Cleveland Clinic, it can be a problem in children too. Before you can figure out what to use for sensitive teeth and if it would help your child, you'll want to ascertain if the issue lies with your child or within the teeth themselves. If his dental habits haven't been stellar, tooth decay might have caused the enamel to wear down, causing a sensitive feeling when in contact with a toothbrush or cold food. Your child's teeth may have even been injured: Chipping a tooth when playing sports or when crunching down on a piece of hard candy can also cause sensitivity, as bacteria can irritate a tooth that has exposed dentin.
In some cases, it might seem as though your child has sensitive teeth, but it is really he who is sensitive. For example, Autism Speaks (PDF) explains how children with autism tend to be sensitive to strong smells or tastes and might react when you try to brush their teeth or when it's time to visit the dentist.
Choose a Toothpaste with Care
Toothpastes such as Colgate Sensitive® are available for people who suffer from sensitive teeth, but it may not be fit for a child with a more ambiguous condition. It's important to consult a dentist before allowing your child to use a desensitizing product, especially if he is under the age of 12. If it turns out that the smell or taste of the current toothpaste your child uses is causing him discomfort, switch to a mildly flavored (or unflavored) variety which might be your best option. According to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, it might be appropriate to skip toothpaste or even a toothbrush for kids under three if it causes either irritation or sensitivity. Instead, use a clean washcloth or piece of gauze to gently wipe your child's teeth and gums until you can visit your dental professional for an appointment.
Fluoride to Strengthen Teeth
If your child's tooth sensitivity is related to cavities, in-office fluoride treatments can prove to be beneficial. Fluoride strengthens the teeth's enamel, lowering one's risk for extensive tooth decay. Usually, special fluoride treatments, such as the use of a fluoride gel or foam, are only needed if your child has a higher-than-average risk for tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although you can purchase fluoride gel to use at home, it's only available with a prescription from your child's dentist.
Encouraging Good Oral Care Habits
Along with in-office fluoride treatment, encouraging better oral care habits can help reduce sensitivity in your child's teeth, and help improve the feeling of brushing. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily will keep the teeth and gums clean, lowering the risk for cavities as well as periodontal disease. Using a toothbrush with soft bristles also reduces the chance that your child's teeth would feel irritation by brushing that is too vigorous.
If sensitivity continues to be a problem, or if you continue to have trouble getting your child to brush his or her teeth, a pediatric dentist can be a great ally. The doctor can help determine if the sensitivity points to another condition and explore ways to make brushing and flossing enjoyable well into adulthood.