I recently had my semi-annual dental cleaning, with nothing super interesting to report. My teeth are basically where they were six months ago, and my mouth guard is doing wonders for my jaw health. (If you experience any amount of jaw pain, clicking, or tension, tell your dentist because apparently just sleeping with a bit of plastic in my mouth fixes the problem.)
It got me thinking about how many people struggle with dental care for various reasons. Depression can make all hygiene tasks seem impossible, memory issues can cause you to simply forget, autistic people and others with sensory issues find the task unbearable.
If you struggle with dental care, know that your challenges are valid, and it is not a reflection on your personal worth or a moral judgment. It is simultaneously true that dental health is connected to all kinds of other medical issues. That is why I decided to put together this list of tips if you struggle with caring for your teeth.
As you read, remember:
- Genetics are a huge part of having “good” teeth. You can do everything right and still have dental problems through no fault of your own. Your teeth do not make you a better or worse person.
- Outside of genetics, people have dental issues for a huge variety of reasons. Whether these reasons come from another medical issue, mental health, access to care, or any other reason, again, your teeth do not make you a better or worse person.
- Taking care of your teeth is important, but struggling to maintain dental hygiene is not a moral issue. You are not a bad person if this is hard for you.
- Don’t judge other people based on their teeth. Be kind.
- I am not a dentist. I am a psychologist who wants to help people complete important asks even when they struggle with them. Nothing here is medical advice, but rather mental health “hacks” to help you remember to take care of your teeth.
Half-Assed Is Better Than Not Done.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth for two full minutes twice per day. If this seems daunting, do whatever feels manageable to you. One minute, thirty seconds, or even ten seconds is better than not at all.
Be Kind To Yourself.
It is so easy to get in your head and yell at yourself for not doing dental care “right.” Despite what I said earlier in this blog, society tends to assign moral value to people’s teeth and ability to maintain dental hygiene. It’s okay if you’re struggling. The reason I encourage dental care is because it can help with your overall health and well-being, and you deserve to be taken care of, not because a moral judgment on those who have trouble.
There Isn’t A Set Time For Dental Care.
While scheduling tasks can make it easier to form and maintain habits, this is not the only way to take care of yourself. Many people brush their teeth when they wake up and just before bed, and that’s great! But if you tend to forget or feel overwhelmed at these times, you can literally take care of your teeth at any time. Is it 2pm, and you just remembered you didn’t brush this morning? You can do it now!
Create A Sensory-Friendly Routine.
As I mentioned, dental care can be overstimulating, even to the point of being unbearable. If sensory issues interfere with your dental care routine, try finding a sensory-friendly toothbrush (note that this article is specifically written about autistic children but can apply to people of any age and any neurotype). Find toothpaste that is flavorless or has mild flavor.
There’s More Than One Way To Clean Your Teeth.
Much like brushing your teeth for less time is better than skipping it all together, any dental care is better than none. If you cannot handle brushing but can swish mouthwash, do that. Small steps are still steps.
A few years ago, my dentist told me I was brushing too hard and damaging my gums (yay sensory-seeking!), so I switched to an electric toothbrush, which helped me be more gentle while still being thorough. Find the routine that works for you.
I hope this can help reduce stigma around dental care and gives you some concrete tips for taking care of your teeth, because no matter what, you deserve care!