CW: Descriptions of toothbrushing and dental stories
Today I managed to brush my teeth, with my electric toothbrush, for about ten seconds.
Now many of you are likely thinking to yourselves at this point that ten seconds is not nearly enough time to brush one’s mouth thoroughly, and I will admit that I would have loved to brush longer, but today ten seconds was a victory.
I’m Autistic. A big part of that is altered sensory processing that can make sensations most people ignore entirely overwhelming.
Some examples of overwhelming sensations (to me) include:
nail/toenail files, hair brushing as a child, many types of socks, tags in clothing, injections & blood draws, circulating air on my arms if it is below 80 degrees (or if my skin is wet), and tooth brushing.
We could go into each of these sensory tortures in detail. Still, toothbrushing is of particular annoyance because, for many years, my avoidance of this task has caused me harm and significant expense.
The executive functioning aspect of why I don’t always do self-care tasks could be its own post (let me know if that interests you in the comments below), so I will not dive into that part today.
Unfortunately, not brushing my teeth frequently enough led me to lose several teeth in my mid-twenties. It was a painful and expensive lesson.
These days, I try to take care of my teeth, making them a priority, because I know they won’t last otherwise, but sometimes the sensory aspect of brushing my teeth is something I literally cannot stomach.
The texture, taste, and foam of the toothpaste may overwhelm me instantly, causing me to wretch violently almost the instant I place it into my mouth.
If the toothpaste doesn’t get me, the back and forth filing motion may; this is why I have an electric toothbrush. The buzzing distracts from the bristly sensation on my teeth and gums. But, unfortunately, a standard toothbrush is entirely too much.
If we woke up tomorrow and all the electric toothbrushes were gone, I would never brush my teeth again. I’d floss and use mouthwash, hoping to save my teeth, but I CANNOT stand the feeling of a non-electric toothbrush moving back and forth in my mouth. Just typing that gave me goosebumps. ICK.
Some mornings, when my sensory system is the most dysregulated, I know I will not be able to handle the minty foam drowning my senses and suffocating me until I’m dizzy and ill, so I don’t torture myself.
If I think I can take even a few seconds of the torture, I will do my best to quickly hit every tooth in my mouth and then, if I’ve made it so far, the parts of my tongue I can sometimes handle.
Yesterday morning was not a tremendous sensory morning. I didn’t brush my teeth (but I did floss them and used mouthwash), so it was important I try today because with brushing teeth, I’ve found something is better than nothing.
This morning I put the toothbrush in my mouth. I quickly got to each tooth, if only in quick passing, and then after about ten seconds, was overcome with the urge to gag. At that point, I promptly aborted the toothbrushing mission and began ejecting the toothpaste from my mouth.
I didn’t get to my tongue, but I still consider this mission a victory.
Maybe I’ll try again later after I drink my coffee (if I remember… executive functioning explained on another day.)
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