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Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Dentist

As a child, I always loved going to the dentist. I was not one of those kids who was traumatized by barbaric dental practices such as being put in a straight jacket during my cleanings. I adored Dr. J, the charming southern gentleman who only mildly scolded me for never flossing, who pinky swore he would never, ever hurt me. When I was eight, he had some bad news for me.

“Now darlin’, I’m gonna have pull your last four baby teeth,” he said gently. “You know how I promised I would never hurt you?”

I nodded, tears streaming down my face.

“Well, when I make a promise, I keep it dang it! If I hurt you, you don’t ever have to come back again. Deal?”

I had hit dental rock bottom. As much as I wanted to hate her for humiliating me, the hygienist was right to give me some tough love. I was a big girl now, no more lollipops or pinky swears for me. I needed to take my dental hygiene seriously, as an adult.

Dr. J told the truth. He didn’t hurt me. And I went back every six months with only a few cavities here and there until I turned 18.

When I started college, I didn’t have the heart to find another dentist. How could any dentist be as debonair, as painless as Dr. J? They couldn’t. So I skipped the dentist altogether for the next, oh, five years, afraid of the possible pain a new doctor might cause, afraid of being an adult sitting in that chair, rather than a child. I neglected to floss … constantly, smoked cigarettes occasionally, and took up wine and coffee. I waited until my gums started to bleed when I brushed, until my mouth was in a state of emergency, until my boyfriend at the time refused to kiss me, to make an appointment.

“You are too young to have such advanced gum disease,” said the disgusted hygienist.

Tears streamed down my cheeks — again! — as she dug into my gums with one of those awful metal picks. It hurt like hell. She continued to shame me throughout the deep cleaning (which she graciously didn’t charge me extra for), telling me what kind of shape my mouth was in and what would happen if I continued down this path. In short, if I didn’t get my act together, I would eventually lose all my teeth.

When she finished, she gave me an Advil for the pain and showed me proper flossing technique. I wanted to bury my head (including my diseased mouth) in the sand. I wanted to run all the way back to Dr. J’s chair. He never would have spoken to me like that. In fact, he probably would have told me I was the cat’s pajamas (who didn’t floss often enough) and sent me on my way with a sugar-free lollipop.

I had hit dental rock bottom. As much as I wanted to hate her for humiliating me, the hygienist was right to give me some tough love. I was a big girl now, no more lollipops or pinky swears for me. I needed to take my dental hygiene seriously, as an adult.

I walked out of there with a very sore mouth, an economy-sized roll of dental floss, and some special mouth wash to help reverse periodonitis.

That dental visit changed my mouth forever. Within six months of vigilant brushing, flossing, and rinsing, my gums were majorly improved. Within a year, my gum disease was completely gone.

That was almost 10 years ago. I’ve kept up with daily flossing and cleanings every six months. I actually get excited to go to the dentist now. I may go so far as to say that I love it. Those close to me call me “weird” or “demented” when I share such sentiments. I shrug it off.

I went for X-rays and a cleaning just yesterday.

“Everything looks great. Keep up with that flossing,” said the hygienist.

“Some people are just blessed with great teeth and gums,” my dentist complimented.

I smiled to myself. He never would have suspected the state of disrepair my mouth was in 10 years ago. I wasn’t blessed with great teeth and gums, I worked hard for them. I felt proud of my accomplishment, as strange as that sounds. Becoming an adult means acknowledging what we do and don’t have control over, and acting accordingly. Dental hygiene is one of the few things we can control. Reversing my gum disease was a moment of victory worth reveling in. Something was wrong, I took responsibility for it, I put in the effort, and changed it. If only all life’s issues were so easily remedied. It’s reassuring to know that if I brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly, that it will never hurt, just like Dr. J promised. Amidst the uncertainty of life, I rejoice in that.

Want to contact the writer of this post? {encode=”ami@thefrisky.com” title=”Email her”}!

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