A Dentist and A Dinosaur

A fossil of a long dinosaur, in brown rocks. There's a museum label to the side saying Coelophysis.
A recent trip to the dentist was both a harrowing experience and a moment of acceptance.

An oral sensitivity

I went to the dentist recently, which is always something of a harrowing experience, as I have pretty intense oral sensitivities. I can barely tolerate a toothbrush in my mouth, never mind dental instruments, other peoples’ hands, and this time they needed to make a mold for a crown. 

Knowing what this is like, I go to the dentist prepared. I had a blackout eye mask, the kind of headphones you wear around power tools, a weighted blanket, fidgets, and some calming essential oil on my wrist to smell when I needed.

Even so, with that gunk for the mold in my mouth, I was stimming, sweating, trying not to gag, and doing everything I know to force myself to get through the two minutes it needed to set. As my back arched involuntarily, a thought crossed my mind that filled me with empathy for a small dinosaur that died millions of years ago.

A beautiful death

I once visited Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, the best museum for dinosaurs that I’ve yet seen. In a remote corner lay a small, fossilized dinosaur with his back arched and gracefully sloping into a very long tail, curved upward into a spiral that circled back around to the tip of his nose, looking almost beautiful in the way he lay, immortalized in black stone.**

Yet the plaque said that this beautiful shape is a position of pain. That both reptiles and mammals arch their back like this when they are in pain, as I was doing in the dentist’s chair. The plaque said that this long ago creature must have died in agony to be curved so beautifully.

And there I lay, also in pain, though not anywhere close to facing my death, thinking of that little dinosaur. The thought helped distract me only very slightly, because it also made me sad for how he died, with no one to comfort him.


Later, when I could think more again, it also made me a little sad for myself, because an oral sensitivity is something that most people don’t understand. I’ve had dentists recommend behavioral therapy and even meds, when all I need is that they go slow so I can do what I need to do to calm my nervous system so I can sit still and let them work. I am fortunate that there are people in my life who accept that I have difficulties with things like brushing teeth and the dentist, yet they don’t really understand it.

And I was fortunate with this dentist yesterday, that he didn’t make a big deal out of it; when the mold came out, he asked me if he could get me anything, and when I shook my head he asked me if I wanted a few minutes to myself, and then he let me alone, which is exactly what I needed right then. Acknowledgment, and acceptance, without making a big fuss over it.

Some understanding would be nice, too. And something to knock me out next time, because when it was over they told me that was just a preliminary mold, that the real one would take five minutes to set. Ugh! I’m going to have to go back for that one, as I couldn’t deal with both in one day. And there’s still the crown.


And yes, I’m well aware that if I brushed more, I wouldn’t need as much dental work. I’ve heard the brushing lecture from every hygienist and dentist I’ve ever seen, who always treat it as though if I just knew how important it was, I would jump on the brushing bandwagon. Truly, it’s not a failure of education or that I don’t want good dental hygiene. I do! I simply haven’t been able to keep the gag stick toothbrush in my mouth.

It’s not for want of trying. I have tried so many things over the years: different toothbrushs and toothpastes, miswack sticks, using my finger, everything. About a year ago I tried a bamboo toothbrush and surprisingly that feels much more tolerable than any plastic one, even though the shape is the same. I don’t know why that works for me, but it does, and I’ve been brushing a lot more since. So maybe I won’t need as much dental work in the future!

**Note, the photo above is not of the dinosaur at the Museum of the Rockies. It is the most similar one I could find. The dinosaur at MOR was more beautiful. Photo credit Vance Nelson.

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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