I can't brush my teeth!

“Brushing my teeth reminds me of having to see a dentist someday, and the thought makes me feel so ill that I can’t do it. I also can’t stand to see my teeth, or I get flashbacks of past events which led to my dental phobia.”

“I just can’t motivate myself to brush my teeth!”

“I can’t stand the taste of toothpaste!”

“Brushing my teeth makes me gag so badly that I just can’t bring myself to do it.”

These are the most common reasons why people find it difficult or impossible to brush their teeth. Below you’ll find some tips on how to deal with these problems!

Lack of motivation:

  • Invest in an electric toothbrush, they are a lot less work than manual brushes.
  • Walk around, watch the TV, or read a book while brushing your teeth.
  • Brush your teeth in the shower (can also be done with electric brushes – for obvious reasons, these are waterproof).
  • Carry a toothbrush around with you and brush your teeth when you remember.
  • Remind yourself of the positive benefits of brushing your teeth.

Hating the taste of toothpaste:

  • It’s not necessary to use toothpaste – you can brush your teeth with water instead. The reason most people use toothpaste is (a) that it tastes fresher than water alone, an effect which most people like – but that doesn’t mean you have to like it too, and (b) most toothpastes contain fluoride. To compensate for the lack of fluoride in toothpaste, use a mouthrinse which contains fluoride (e. g. ACT rinse in the U.S.). Choose a rinse that doesn’t contain alcohol (ethanol), as this can dry out your mouth. You should use the fluoride rinse after brushing (best before going to bed).

Gagging while brushing:

  • A sensitive gag reflex can make brushing very difficult. One method which has worked for some people with a bad gag reflex is using an electric toothbrush with a very small brushhead, such as the Oral-B 3D Excel or Professional series. These toothbrushes also do extremely well in controlled studies, and are well worth the investment.
  • Remember to breathe through your nose, unless you cannot do so due to a cold or medical reasons.
  • Usually, the gag reflex is stronger when brushing back teeth (especially the inside and biting surfaces). Gagging may be less pronounced when you keep your lips closed. Some people find it easiest to start off with brushing the outer surfaces of the lower teeth. Start off with whatever area you find easiest, move slowly, and add other areas on a day-by-day basis until you manage to cover your whole mouth. This may take several weeks.
  • Electric toothbrushes often have two speed settings, and you may find the slower speed easier to begin with.
  • Some people find their gag reflex is worse at certain times of the day, especially in the morning. Choose a time that works best for you.
  • The gag reflex may be due to a medical problem – if you suspect this, seeing a medical doctor would be a good idea.
  • Sometimes a single event in the past can cause gagging, and simply discovering the cause has helped some people.
  • If gagging is due to past abuse, enlisting the help of an empathetic counsellor or psychologist can be a great idea.
  • Hypnosis may help. Make sure you choose a qualified hypnotherapist.
  • You can find out more about gagging here: How to deal with a bad gag reflex.

Being scared of brushing your teeth:

  • Switch off the lights while brushing your teeth.
  • Close your eyes, or if you’re wearing glasses or contact lenses, remove them.
  • Some people are worried about doing damage to their teeth or gums. These fears are unfounded, the only potential problem is using too much force or brushing incorrectly. Again, a high-end electric toothbrush (such as Oral-B or Sonicare) ensures that this cannot happen – just follow the instructions in the manual. When choosing a manual toothbrush, get one with soft or extra-soft bristles.
  • Some people can’t bring themselves to brush their teeth because it acts as a reminder of traumatic past events (dental or otherwise), or because it reminds them that they really ought to see a dentist *shudder*. Please consider joining our Dental Phobia Support Forum. The suffering you’re going through every day is far worse than anything you might encounter once you locate a caring and gentle dentist.