When Pain Makes Brushing Your Teeth a Challenge


There is one task we all should do in the morning after we eat breakfast and again in the evening before we go to sleep. It is a simple task and its importance is instilled in us from a young age. Can you guess it? Yes, it’s brushing your teeth.

While it is very easy, often mundane task for most, it can be challenging for those with chronic conditions. Two of my chronic conditions make brushing my teeth effectively very painful. The first is reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS) and the second, and probably more challenging of my many conditions when it comes to brushing my teeth is stiff person syndrome (SPS).

I know I have to brush my teeth. Not only is it important to maintain oral hygiene, but who really wants to smell my morning breath? There are other tools like mouthwash and other oral cleansing products, but nothing beats a good scrub with a toothbrush.

Because of the RSD/CRPS, which affects everywhere there’s a nerve, my hands swell up. As luck would have it, it’s worse in the morning and at night. I use a toothbrush with a thicker handle to combat this problem. Because of the RSD/CRPS, my tongue, gums, and teeth are very sensitive, so I use a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth. I haven’t found a good solution to my gums swelling from the CRPS or the bloody patches on my tongue. The dentist says as far as he’s considered, there’s no infection and people with CRPS can have issues with their mouths as a result of the condition.

Because I’m stubborn and fiercely independent, I wouldn’t dream of asking someone else to help me brush my teeth (except when I’m in the hospital) and the SPS makes physically brushing my teeth challenging. Holding my arm up, moving my wrist around, the repetitive back and forth movement of my wrist, elbow, and shoulder, all trigger painful spasms causing ineffective brushing. Now, it took me a few months to find one that worked for me, but I found a rechargeable vibrating toothbrush that has cut back on the number of spasms and the time I spend fighting with my muscles to ensure I’m getting each little spot. The soft bristles are perfect for my sensitive mouth and give my mouth the TLC it needs to stay healthy. The strength of the vibration is important too, because it can occasionally trigger spasms, so it may take a few tries to get a good fit.

It’s a fine balance to maintain my oral hygiene with many chronic pain conditions and illnesses. Like most people with chronic conditions, I’m always on the lookout for tools that can help make my daily routine more “spoonie” friendly. Sometimes it takes trial, error, frustration, and perseverance to find the good fit for you.

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