That's all she said when I asked her to describe it and I think that's plenty. And flossing, she says, is even worse!
When she was younger, our parents were in charge and made sure her oral hygiene was kept up by making her brush her teeth.
However, now that she's an adult who can make her own decisions, Caley has declared that the pain of toothbrushing is not worth the benefits (which should tell you just how painful it is) and that we should try to find something to do instead.
Here's everything we've tried so far, including what's worked and what hasn't, so that those of you with similar difficulties can learn from our experimentation.
Attempt #1: No Burn Mouthwash
Caley vetoed regular mouthwash right away, for sensory reasons, but agreed to try "no burn" mouthwash instead. Apparently that's false advertising on their part because she took one mouthful and immediately had to spit out and rinse.
As Caley says "It BURNED!!!!! It was lies!"
As that didn't work, we tried a mouthwash that didn't have any alcohol in it whatsoever: Biotene mouthwash. Caley approved of the lack of the burn, so this product gets the thumbs up from her!
That said, mouthwash alone is no substitute for an actual toothbrush. So we kept looking...
Attempt #2: Water pic
We thought this might be able to help with actual plaque removal, unlike the mouthwash. At the same time, unlike toothbrushing the water didn't have painful bristles, which was a point in its favor.
Unfortunately, despite looking like a good product for sensory avoiders this didn't work out. Not only was the water pressure not enough to really get rid of all the plaque, but the machine itself was LOUD, which set off sensory sensitivities in a different way!
Points for effort, but this one ended up being a waste of money for her needs.
Attempt #3: Stimudent
These are little wooden picks that you use to get plaque off your teeth. These, unfortunately, didn't work out either, also for sensory reasons, as well as practical reasons.
Sensory wise, they made Caley's gums bleed. The taste of blood really bothers her, so that was already enough to make her not want to use them. On top of that, it takes a forever, in Caley's words, to fully clean your teeth with these. Practically, therefore, these didn't pan out either.
Attempt #4: Trident gum
This one met with approval! Trident gum helps (slightly) to mechanically dislodge food in the mouth, and an ingredient in it, xylitol, helps make the mouth a less pleasant environment for harmful bacteria. That's actually the same ingredient as they use in baby toothpaste!
Again, like mouthwash, definitely not a replacement, but certainly helpful as part of a bigger oral hygiene plan.
Attempt #5: Oral swabs
These are basically little sponges attached to popsicle sticks. You can get them plain or, as we did, treated. Ours has dentrifice on it, which acts to scrub plaque away by abrasion, as toothpaste does.
They're easy to use, you just brush them around your mouth like a toothbrush. They're meant for people with disorders or health problems that make toothbrushing impossible - which certainly applied!
Caley tried them and deemed them a success! Not only did the sponge not cause pain, but it was also pretty much flavorless (despite saying they were mint flavored) - another point in favor for a sensory avoider!
We had a winner!
Now, am I saying these solutions are as good as flossing and brushing? No, not by any means. However, they mean Caley doesn't have to be in pain anymore, and using all three of them together (Biotene mouthwash, trident gum, and the oral swabs) makes a halfway decent oral care program.
It was definitely worth it to respect Caley's needs and find something new instead of trying to force her to do something that wasn't working for her. Caley and I are sharing this story to help those of you with similar needs find something that works for you, too!
Let us know in the comments about any other sensory friendly oral hygiene products you know of, or if you've run into similar toothbrushing issues yourself!