The Anguish of Brushing Your Teeth When You Have Sensory Issues


I hate brushing my teeth. That’s right. Almost 30 years old, masquerading as a fully functional member of society, and I still hate brushing my teeth.

I’ve always hated brushing my teeth, and I doubt that will ever change. Although as an adult, with more control of my own surroundings, I am finding more and more ways to make the intolerable tolerable.

My mother called me rebellious because I refused to brush my teeth and ran away when she tried to brush my hair. She made me sit through manicures and pedicures — procedures that were pure torture for me. I even bit a dentist once when he forced his finger into my mouth.

I’ve learned to deal with the day-to-day distractions, bright and humming florescent lights, intense smells and even dental appointments. There are lots of little tricks I’ve learned along the way.

Growing up undiagnosed was hard, but it prepared me for life in the real world. Despite my difficulties, I am grateful my mother did not coddle me and always encouraged me to “toughen up.” It forced me to develop useful coping mechanisms that allow me to blend in with society today.

Many of my more obvious autistic habits have faded away as I’ve grown up, morphing into more discrete and subtle eccentricities. I learned not to complain about things that don’t seem to bother “normal” people — pretending everything is OK even if it isn’t.

Despite all the tricks I’ve learned to help me go about living a “normal” life, brushing my teeth is something I may never learn to tolerate fully.

As long as I am using an electric toothbrush, I am sometimes able to get though a full 30 seconds of brushing before I have to stop to prevent myself from vomiting. Some days I can only tolerate 15 seconds of brushing. There are even days when I can’t handle brushing my teeth at all, but I always try.

Using a manual toothbrush or letting someone else brush my teeth is completely out of the question.

Some days I have to scratch my back to distract myself from the sensations inside my mouth. Scratching hard is the only way to draw my mind away from the sensations pulsing from the nerves in my teeth.

My body quivers, twitching, as goosebumps appear on my neck and arms. My brain feels frozen as all my focus goes into holding back my gag reflex in response to the sensations and strong flavor of toothpaste in my mouth.

It is painful when my brain gets stuck. I don’t think many people can understand the anguish of brushing your teeth when you have sensory issues. I’ve had many cavities in my life, but now that I can’t afford them I force myself to endure the torture.

No matter how how old I get, I may always hate brushing my teeth.

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