By Hallie Bulkin
Does your child swallow gum and/or toothpaste?? If you answered yes, keep reading!!
I recently had a parent email me about their child who was swallowing both gum and toothpaste. This is a common question and a challenge, especially when teaching children with language and/or cognitive delays. So what is my stance on chewing gum and teaching children to spit out toothpaste? Here is the response I share with her for her son:
Honestly, for children that swallow gum, the best thing is just to wait until they are a bit older and really understand it is not food and should not be swallowed…that generally comes after they learn how to spit. There is an article that I found when another parent recently asked me about my opinion on gum for their child who constantly was swallowing it. You can read that article here. I am not one to engage in scare tactics or act as an alarmist, but this article was quite eye opening and I would be doing you all an injustice by not sharing what I found!! Be sure to read the article.
With regards to learning to spit, there are a two steps to try if your kiddo is not just imitating your model when you show him/her how to spit in the sink. Give this a try and let us know how it goes!
Suggestion #1: If you have not done this already, you can switch his toothpaste to a minty flavor without fluoride (adult stuff is okay if it is fluoride-free unless your dentist tells you otherwise). Most kids want to spit this out right away, while they like to swallow the kiddy flavored bubble gum toothpastes. There are different schools of thought on fluoride and I am not an expert on that topic so I air on the side of caution on that one! Please contact your pediatric dentist if you have any concern with choosing the toothpaste that’s safest when it comes to the fluoride debate. 🙂
Suggestion #2: Make a game out of it. This will only take place when brushing teeth (we don’t want your kiddo spitting elsewhere) so I don’t recommend working on this/acknowledging at other times of the day.
Tell your child it’s time to play a game and get a cup filled half-way with water. You can get another cup that’s empty and take a sip, swish and spit into the empty cup for your child to see. Then say, “Okay, YOUR TURN!” Wait to see if your child buys into it and tries to spit out the water. I have seen this work for kids if you make it super silly (get your child to laugh and I bet s/he will want to try it, too!)
You can skip the empty cup and just swish and spit it right into the sink…and see if he will do it but with the empty cup becoming filled with the water that he has just spit out he will see that he is expelling the water and not swallowing. THEN if he gets this you start to brush his teeth and then at the end have him sip, swish and spit twice to carry this over to doing it while brushing teeth. Eventually, you can move to having him just spit out the toothpaste without needing water at the end (although some kids do still like having the water to rinse after).
Hope this helps!