How Brushing Your Teeth Can Be a Test for Autism

Oral hygiene is a routine activity for most, but for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), brushing teeth can be a significant challenge. This everyday task can serve as a valuable indicator for early autism diagnosis due to the sensory sensitivities and motor coordination issues often associated with the disorder. In this blog post, we explore how brushing teeth can be a test for autism, why it matters, and what signs to look out for.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition characterized by differences in social communication, behavior, and sensory processing. These differences manifest in various ways, making early diagnosis crucial for effective intervention and support.

The Role of Sensory Sensitivities

One of the core characteristics of autism is heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Brushing teeth involves multiple sensory experiences: the taste and texture of toothpaste, the sensation of bristles on gums and teeth, and the sound of brushing. For someone with ASD, these sensations can be overwhelming, causing discomfort or distress.

Signs of Sensory Sensitivities During Brushing
  • Gagging or Choking: An intense reaction to the taste or texture of toothpaste.
  • Avoidance: Refusal to open the mouth or avoidance of the toothbrush altogether.
  • Distress: Crying, screaming, or extreme discomfort during brushing.
  • Unusual Preferences: Preference for specific flavors or types of toothpaste due to sensory preferences.

Motor Coordination Challenges

In addition to sensory issues, individuals with autism may also experience difficulties with fine motor skills. Brushing teeth requires coordination and precision, which can be particularly challenging for those with motor impairments.

Signs of Motor Coordination Issues
  • Difficulty Holding the Toothbrush: Struggling to grip or maneuver the toothbrush effectively.
  • Inconsistent Brushing: Inability to brush all areas of the mouth evenly.
  • Excessive Time: Taking significantly longer to complete brushing due to coordination difficulties.

Behavioral Indicators

Behavioral responses during tooth brushing can also provide insights into potential autism. Children with ASD might display repetitive behaviors, insistence on sameness, or unusual routines related to brushing.

Behavioral Signs to Watch For
  • Repetitive Motions: Engaging in repetitive brushing motions or rituals.
  • Resistance to Change: Insisting on the same toothbrush, toothpaste, or brushing routine every time.
  • Meltdowns: Intense emotional outbursts if the brushing routine is altered.

Importance of Early Detection

Identifying these signs during tooth brushing can be an early indicator of autism, prompting further evaluation by a healthcare professional. Early diagnosis allows for timely intervention, which can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with autism.

Strategies for Support

If tooth brushing is challenging for an individual with autism, several strategies can help ease the process:

  • Sensory-Friendly Products: Using toothpaste and toothbrushes designed for sensory sensitivities.
  • Gradual Desensitization: Gradually introducing the sensations of brushing to build tolerance.
  • Visual Supports: Using visual schedules or social stories to outline the brushing routine.
  • Occupational Therapy: Seeking support from occupational therapists to develop motor skills and sensory integration.


Brushing teeth can reveal much about a child's sensory and motor abilities, providing critical clues for early autism detection. Understanding the challenges faced by individuals with autism during this routine activity allows caregivers and professionals to offer better support and create more effective interventions. If you notice any of the signs mentioned above, consider seeking a professional evaluation to ensure your child receives the support they need for their unique developmental journey.