toothbrushing etiquette
August 25, 2022 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Gross-filter, please avoid if you are squeamish.

My partner hasn't had a dentist appointment in over a year. (Neither have I, we both are irresponsible.) He finally has one scheduled for next week.

In the past few months, he has been struggling a lot with food getting stuck in his back teeth and temperature sensitivity. He suspects a cavity or some other weirdness. He goes through a lot of toothpicks after a meal and flosses frequently. It's fine, better than leaving food to rot in his mouth.

That said, when he brushes his teeth, especially at night, he ends up dislodging more food remnants in the process. He rinses, spits, and goes on his way. Then when I go to brush my teeth, I discover the sink is dotted with bits of whatever has emerged from his teeth during brushing.

I think this is gross AF. I am trying to be empathetic because his teeth are really bothering him, but if you mess up the sink with food remnants after brushing, I think common sense dictates either wiping it up with a paper towel or at least making an effort to rinse the stuff down the drain because of hygiene and basic etiquette.

I don't know how to bring this up with him because in all other matters in the house, I am a slob. I don't see mess, I don't clean as I go in the kitchen, if left to my own devices dirty dishes stay in the sink for a long time, I forget to take the trash out when it's full, I only vacuum when there is an overwhelming amount of visible pet hair, I forget to do laundry, and I take forever to put clean laundry away. My partner picks up the slack in these areas when I forget because he is generally a neat freak. I totally understand why my general slob-ness is irritating, and, in the case of the trash and dirty dishes, also a hygiene concern. I have been making an effort to pull my weight more in these areas so cleaning isn't all on him, but it's hard. I'm doing better, but I was basically left to my own devices as a child because my mother was ill and my father was devoted mostly to being a caretaker and they never gave me chores or enforced me to keep my room clean. I'm kind of feral because I wasn't raised to see these as essential tasks to maintain a household.

So I feel like if I complain about his gross food remnants in the bathroom sink I'm kind of being a hypocrite. He cleans up my messes, and it's not a big deal for me to just wash his mess down the drain before my own nightime bathroom routine.

But seriously guys, it's gross. It's so gross. Sometimes it makes me want to puke. Sometimes I find bits of food not just in the sink but on the bathroom counter (WTF is he spitting from ten feet away?!)

Should I just suck this up because I'm actually the bigger problem in household neatness, or is there I way I can ask him to be more considerate here without making him feel worse about his teeth?

(I am hopeful that the upcoming dentist appointment will result in solutions that fix his teeth and eliminate this problem, but if my guy needs a root canal or something that's not gonna happen on the spot so this may take a few weeks to fully resolve.)
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is a super reasonable thing to ask anyone: “can you make sure to rinse out the sink after you’re done brushing?” It’s a very common problem in my house and is really ordinary housekeeping couple stuff. Good luck to your partner with the dental stuff, it’s the worst but is 10000% worth having addressed.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:24 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just tell him that he may not realize he is doing it, but you think it's yucky and you ALSO recognize that you make messes that he cleans up all the time. It's a brief awkward conversation between partners who are adults.
posted by vunder at 8:25 AM on August 25, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, just tell him that 1) you’re somehow particularly sensitive to this, to the extent that it makes you gag, and 2) could he rinse it off 3) even though he’s already compensating a lot for you when it comes to tidying, 4) which you are so grateful for and 5) actively working on improving yourself.
posted by meijusa at 8:31 AM on August 25, 2022 [10 favorites]

I don't think that just because you are messy, that you can't ask that he rinse the sink after brushing his teeth. Maybe don't frame it as a complaint, but a request?

Don't do what I did -- get so frustrated with it that you end up kind of whisper-screaming "couldyoupleaserinsethefuckingsinkofafterbrushingforfuckssake" because that is super rude and rather mean-spirited.

(It does work though.)

Also, this may not be eliminated by going to the dentist and getting dental care. For example, some people just have tight teeth spacing, or can't/don't floss effectively. I hope he's able to figure out what the immediate issue is but after my root canal, personally, I got way more stuff stuck between my teeth.
posted by sm1tten at 8:32 AM on August 25, 2022

Best answer: Propose a deal. Tell him he's been doing one particular thing that's been grossing you out and that if he wants to know what that is then you're ready and willing to hear about the one particular thing you've been doing that's been grossing him out the most. Then both of you can work on not doing the thing that grosses your beloved out the most, and both your already excellent lives will get even better.

If he accepts, do your best to stay slightly more rigorous about upholding your end of the deal than he manages to achieve at upholding his; this small asymmetry compensates for your having raised the issue in the first place. Also, the work you do in order to uphold your end will help you as well as helping him, because slob reform is good for the soul and goes way easier given one specific point to centre it on.
posted by flabdablet at 8:44 AM on August 25, 2022 [14 favorites]

Sometimes I find bits of food not just in the sink but on the bathroom counter (WTF is he spitting from ten feet away?!)

They're probably getting flicked off in random directions by floss under tension, right after it snaps out from between a pair of teeth. Using interdental brushes instead of floss will help, if that's what's happening. Just make sure to get them in a size that's fine enough to fit between his teeth without needing to be forced in.
posted by flabdablet at 8:47 AM on August 25, 2022

My spouse and I have very different perceptions of what’s messy vs what’s ok. With us, if one of us says, “I get grossed out/stressed out by [specific mess type], please pay more attention to it,” that I statement is unquestionable and the mess-maker cleans it up because they care about the other person, even if they themselves think of it as a minor mess. So please don’t feel like you don’t have a right to ask him to clean it, even if you’re messy yourself.
posted by matildaben at 8:52 AM on August 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like the suggestions above, and I'd add that if you talk to your partner about your squeamish reaction to his brushing efforts, start with "I'm really thankful you're great about keeping the house clean", follow with, "I have this issue about icky stuff in the bathroom sink tho", and then finish with, "It's great you're taking care of your teeth & have an appointment with a professional". This way you are sandwiching two complimentary items around the one thing you want him to work on.
posted by olopua at 9:05 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is a life-lesson in consideration one should receive when very young. Just like the camp-site, it's YOUR responsibility to leave the sink clean, so the next user isn't forced to tidy up your mess. And in a married situation, I'm reminded of She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink -‌- it may not seem like a big deal to the one, but if it's making the other crazy, something's gotta change -‌- or else!

if my guy needs a root canal or something

Sorry but IME when there's temperature sensitivity, especially when accompanied by pressure sensitivity, a root canal is the cure. They'll first suggest Sensodyne toothpaste but again, IME that stuff doesn't solve anything.
posted by Rash at 9:14 AM on August 25, 2022

Best answer: One thing that may solve both things … get a waterpik flosser. “Hey, the stuff left in the sink post floss is bothering me. Let’s get a waterpik. It will help you floss better and since it flushes with water it should help all the debris go down the drain.”
posted by Crystalinne at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I have a Waterpik! My dad bought it for me randomly one Xmas. I rarely use it but this might be the best time to change that...
posted by nayantara at 10:08 AM on August 25, 2022

Best answer: My husband does similar things (leaves stuff after rinsing in bathroom sink, leaves food in kitchen sink after doing dishes and it squicks me out). I just say in a light tone, not angrily: “Hon, you left stuff in the sink and it’s freaking me out.” He then goes to clean it up. I am also Not Neat (lots of clutter), and I don’t feel it’s contradictory to not mind lots of books piles on tables while at the same time being grossed out by stuff that’s been in someone’s mouth; they’re totally different classes of matter.
posted by holborne at 10:33 AM on August 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

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