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5 Things I Want My Dentist to Know as an Autistic Adult

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I absolutely hate going to the dentist. I know that most people do, but as someone who is autistic, it is a complete minefield full of anxiety, sensory issues, and being touched. Here are 5 things I want my dentist to know.

1. My nervousness is not a sign of intellectual disability.

When I get anxious, I have a very hard time masking. I flap, rock, and wring my hands. Every time I go to the dentist, because of the intense fear I am displaying and the fact that they can see an autism diagnosis in my file, I get asked questions such as, are you your own guardian or who drove you here? The answer to both is me. Just because I am quaking like a leaf does not mean I can’t function in other aspects of my life. Of course, people with intellectual disabilities also deserve respect and quality care, but making assumptions based on a person’s stimming and behavior can be harmful.

2. I am not afraid of the pain. I’m afraid of the difficult sensory experience ahead of me.

I hate the sounds of the drill, the noise my teeth make while metal scrapes against them, and the brightness of the light shining above me. I wear headphones with a podcast while there, but I can still hear the shrill buzzing of the drill and feel it vibrating around my skull. Normally, if I get too sensory overloaded I flee the situation, but you can’t do that at the dentist.

3. The worst part of going to the dentist is not the going to the dentist part.

It is the week before. My anxiety slowly starts ramping up and by the day before the appointment, I can think of nothing else. By the time I get into the waiting room, I have spent a couple of days in abject terror thinking about my appointment. The dental work is always far less bad than my anxiety makes it seem.

4. This is an appointment I might have put off for far too long, not just because I am scared, but because even the act of calling to make the appointment drains me.

I am getting much better at this, but I used to not go to the dentist until I was feeling intense pain, which led to me getting many cavities, fillings, and root canals that might not have been needed if I had gone to the dentist on a regular basis.

5. I have trouble remembering to brush my teeth.

I have not-so-fantastic executive functioning skills and it can be difficult to remind myself to do basic human tasks. This too has led to more dental work that would not have happened if I had remembered to brush my teeth every night. I get very embarrassed going to the dentist because I don’t want them to judge either me or my teeth. I am working hard to fix this. I have a reminder set on my phone to brush my teeth and I make sure to keep my toothbrush in a visible space so I can be prompted.

Getty image by Lari Bat.

Originally published: March 29, 2023
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