Through Keely’s unusually strong memory for events, she can actually remember how it felt when her parents were brushing her teeth for her as a small child – and when she began to brush her teeth for herself:
“When my mum was brushing my teeth, her strokes of the brush against my gums – and against the enamel of my teeth – felt really hard to me, and really rough. Looking back, I don’t think it was nearly as bad as all that in reality, but that was the way I experienced it. My teeth and gums were really sensitive and I found it difficult to bear the pressure or the friction against them.
I remember pushing my mum away, grabbing the toothbrush in my own hand and saying I wanted to do it myself – before putting the toothbrush in my mouth and very gently, very lightly, very slowly moving it backwards and forwards, along the complete row of my teeth.
My mum watched and said, “You can’t do it like that. You’ll never get them clean that way.”
So, I simply said, “Well, I’ll do it a bit harder, then.” And, still very gently and very slowly, and only with a little more firmness, I began moving my toothbrush across my teeth in the same motion again.
That motion became my permanent technique, and it has worked for me just perfectly. I never experienced tooth brushing as painful again, and I have never had any fillings either.”
These vivid memories give Keely a rare ability to understand exactly why some children react so strongly to the idea of having their teeth brushed – and she has come up with a way of helping them to discover, just as she did, that different techniques (and different kinds of toothbrushes, as well) can totally change the way that tooth brushing feels.
To help children face their anxieties around this, we start by playing with a chewable object that doesn’t look anything like a toothbrush – and work very gradually towards using something that looks more and more like a toothbrush – until eventually children are able to tolerate an actual toothbrush, which we can teach them to use the way that Keely learned to, in order to make it more comfortable.