The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
Autism neurodiversity

Abused…at the dentist???

Oh boy, where do I begin with this one?

I used to go to a hygienist/orthodontics office where the dental assistants were absolutely creepy, hostile, and even suffocating!

How could I use such strong words? What could they have possibly done?

Well, I’ll start with the usual teeth cleaning. I felt that the ‘nicest’ of all the hygienists was trying to be kind to be when she asked me about my love life, so I started telling her about someone from school.

Before I could finish my story, the hygienist told the whole office I had a girlfriend. I guess because I used the pronoun ‘she.’ I was about to say that the girl I referenced didn’t like me like that. I was so humiliated.

Then came time for braces. I had so much trouble keeping track of brushing my teeth whenever those metal torture tracks were in my mouth. I only got them because I wanted to fix my top tooth that was hitting the bottom in unusual ways.

One day, I was at the office for a cleaning when one hygienist was working on cleaning around my braces. She kept calling me “unacceptable” because I wasn’t able to take care of my teeth to her standards with braces on. My teeth hurt so much and were so sensitive all the time, and she treated me like I was shameful for it.

I still haven’t told you the worst part!

Apparently gagging is not tolerated at that office. It’s bad enough that the hygienist kicks me while (my teeth) are down, but she kept hitting the back of my mouth with that metal thing. Of course, like many autistic people, I have a very sensitive gag reflex, and sticking something in my throat going to trigger them. Instead of apologizing or being more careful, she snaps at me saying, “Don’t do that! I am working on your teeth. You are making it double the difficulty!”

Then there were x-rays and mold-making. Apparently, they need x-rays in the back of my mouth in order to determine what’s going on with my teeth. They always had to numb my mouth in order to do it without me gagging. It was annoying.

But when they shoved clay-like substances into my mouth in order to make a “mold statue” of my teeth, and had my hold it in there for like 3 minutes, I was suffocating so much I thought I was about to be killed by my dentists!

I had to bite down in order to relax my mouth from it. It was a panic reaction to feeling like I was suffocating. As if things weren’t already strained for me in that office, the hygienist that was holding the mold device obviously got upset because I bit her finger breaking the skin.

The last straw:

I was just about to turn 18, the dentists were telling me about how I was going to have to get several x-rays of my teeth.

I knew I wasn’t going to handle it, my mom even knew I wasn’t going to handle it.

So did I find an alternative that would help me feel more comfortable just simply getting my teeth cleaned?

I came upon Dr. Jim Feldman in Washington, DC. Not only was he super knowledgeable about individual teeth, but he knew how to go towards the back of my mouth without gagging me!

The best part: he didn’t even need any x-rays, and when it came to molding my teeth regarding designing retainers, he even referred me to an orthodontist in DC with technology that allowed my teeth to be measured without going towards the back of my mouth!

I felt so relieved that I finally found someone who cares about keeping teeth healthy rather than about making patients as uncomfortable and ashamed as possible.

But I also felt angry at myself for not realizing sooner that there were alternatives to those horrible dentists closer to home that have always told me how I’m the “only person in the world” who can’t handle their tools being shoved in the back of my mouth.

The moral lesson?

Certification means nothing. Just because they’re professionals doesn’t mean they’re saints. If you see something, say something! Especially if what you see is what you experience.

Autistic people are not “unacceptable” or shameful for being sensitive to pain, having sensitive gag reflexes, or any other sensory issue that makes it difficult to go to the dentist. If yours is making you feel that way, I recommend finding someone who can respect your needs.

Further Reading

Overcoming Sensory Issues at The Dentist – The First Visit

The Other 3 Senses You Never Knew Existed… But You Should!

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7 Responses

  1. Every time I get a new hygienist, I look for someone who is autistic-friendly. I specifically ask for it. I wear headphones during the cleaning.

    1. Dr. Feldman actually has a music box where he’ll play just about anything you want (except metal rock n roll 😕)

  2. If you live in NYC, Dr. Andrew Koeningsburg, while expensive, is autism-friendly, so if you have the money to go see him, check him out. My mom got dental phobia from bad treatment by a childhood dentist and he knows how to help her. And if you need a surgery and you’re around that area, if at all possible, save up and see his practice if there aren’t cheaper alternatives that you know of. Dental surgery sucks bad enough, you don’t also need to deal with being shamed for autistic sensitivities on top of that.

  3. Oh, this reminded me of that time I went to an older lady dentist who started shouting at a kid who didn’t know how to brush his teeth properly (it was her job to teach him that… prevention and all) and she scared me so much that I never went back after that visit. I don’t even remember anything from the visit, just her shouting at a kid. I was a kid myself at the time… Thankfully, later on I found such a gentle and nice dentist, always speaking softly and with equipment from this century.
    I also had one of those molds, it was fun, but I got to bite on it. Also, unlike you, my gag reflex is very controlled, I had to learn to do this because I’d get sick all the time while traveling… I can’t recommend it, though, better to have gentle dentists who know how to use modern technology (you shouldn’t have to bite the dentist to get some relief!).

    1. I looked at your blog and I didn’t see anything about how to find a dentist that is autism-friendly.

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