Going to the Dentist

I had a dentist appointment last week at which I got a temporary crown and cleaning. My jaw felt like someone had punched me for the first 2-3 days afterwards.

The visit started off poorly from the beginning, with me forgetting to bring money and having to go back home for it. So, instead of being a good 15 minutes early, I arrived just barely on time. By then, I was so stressed out by the change in plans that I was unable to even manage getting my shoes out and putting them on, even though I’d previously planned to wear them in order to try and blend in since the potential of being hassled about shoes could easily add more pressure to an already stressful appointment.

Then they called me back before I’d finished initialing and signing all the paperwork. It takes me a little while to complete routine paperwork because I actually have to read all of it and I wasn’t early the way I’d planned to be so I didn’t have enough time to go through it.

Once in the chair, they prepped me and I played Sudoku on my phone between times when they were actually doing things to my mouth. The game helped relax me a little bit and I managed to be mostly okay during the crown prepping process. The drilling was horrifying, as usual, and this dentist is a new one so their style is different to me.

I really wasn’t expecting the drilling to be the way it was, although I’d be hard-pressed to actually describe what was different about it. I’ve also never gotten a crown before, so maybe that factored in as well.

Then came the cleaning. It was horribly painful and I got lectured. So, I felt like a failure, despite actually brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash on my teeth every single day since my last visit (minus once or twice when I fell asleep unexpectedly early and then I brushed/flossed/used mouthwash the next morning when I woke up). Also, apparently I need to brush three times a day, which is the first I’ve ever heard of that nonsense.

I’m just barely able to manage once, sometimes twice, a day regularly. It’s not an easy thing for me at all and I’m only managing to do that right now with a slew of reminders and rewards and such because executive functioning issues plus sensory issues have been the utter undoing of consistent dental hygiene throughout my life.

I’ll get into a good routine for a while and then something will happen to mess it all up. It’s sometimes something as simple as thinking, “Oh, I’ll just do it tomorrow” on a night when I’m exhausted. Then, I’ll wake up one morning and realize that it’s somehow been a year since I last brushed and flossed. That extreme situation has only happened a few times, but that’s still a few years total of lost dental care.

On the nice side, I came home, tweeted about the visit, and had a whole community of people who understood and who told me that yes, I did do a good job, to keep doing the best I can, and then several folks suggested other brushes and pastes and such that will hopefully not make me want to die every time I use them. The suggested products are now on my Amazon list and I’ll order some of them very soon! 

I also discovered, since the dentist visit, that hand flapping helps greatly with my tolerance of mouthwash. Maybe I should start diluting it less to see how that goes.

Consistency with dentists is an issue for me too. I’ve been to so many dentists and there always comes a time when I leave them for reasons that aren’t always clear to me. Sometimes it’s the lecturing, other times I have no idea, but I know I can’t go back to them.

I hope that this new dentist will be okay. Nobody said anything about my bare feet, at least. On the less awesome side I also started melting down towards the end of the cleaning/lecture and I’m not sure I’m ready to tell them more than what I’ve already said, which is: “I have sensory issues.”

That’s still more than I’ve managed to tell any of my past dentists. For most of my life, I didn’t even know that I had sensory issues surrounding dental care.

My mask was very much down by the end of that visit, maybe even from the beginning due to being late. That worries me a little bit. I need them to take me seriously and I’m not sure how much my slippage will cost me in that area.

Maybe it would be better to just tell them outright that I’m autistic if I’m not going to be able to mask anyhow. I have no idea.

Regardless, it seems, based on discussions with other autistic folks, that my dental experiences are not terribly unique. I don’t know what dentists could do to help autistic patients, especially those of us who didn’t know we were autistic for most of our lives and have built up a protective shell of dental anxiety over the years, but what they’re actually doing doesn’t seem to be helping all that much.

Part of the issue with dentists is probably unavoidable due to the largely unavoidable sensory onslaught of dental work and care. There’s probably not any way to make drilling much less of a sensory nightmare without adding more medications, which isn’t always ideal either. That also wouldn’t help with the awful tasting goop they use and the smells of everything.

They could, however, do a great deal more in the area of sensory friendly lighting.

There also doesn’t seem to be much compassion in general from dentists when I’ve discussed with them my issues regarding dental care. This has led to me hiding my difficulties from most dentists and giving them the answer they expect to hear, “Of course I brush and floss daily!” adding silently in my head, so it’s not wholly untrue, “when I remember and am able to manage it.”

More compassion and understanding would definitely go a long way towards helping me feel more comfortable going to the dentist and supported as I struggle with dental hygiene.

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