#SelfCare: My Dental Nightmare

I thought it would be easy to write an article about self-care this week. I am, after all, a self-proclaimed “treat yourself” queen when it comes to spending money I don’t have, taking a nap instead of starting an upcoming school assignment or deciding that, yes, I should eat that second brownie if it's in the name of self-care. This year, however, I learned the hard way that self-care isn’t always one-dollar face masks, DIY skin scrubs (I had turmeric stains in my bathtub for a week) or dissociating from reality when there are errands to be run and studying to be done. Sometimes, self-care means tackling the uncomfortable stuff, the stuff that’s easy to put off over and over again because there’s always something else you can do with your day, and for me, this meant making a long overdue appointment with a dentist.

I’m a big fan of ignoring a problem until one of two things happens: the problem goes away, or I physically can’t ignore it any longer. Therefore, I’m sure it doesn't surprise anyone when I say that my year-long dental nightmare started with intermittent toothaches that I loved to pretend weren’t happening. I ignored and ignored it, until the pain became so monstrously excruciating that I was squirting an entire tube of numbing cream into my mouth, popping what was probably more than the recommended dose of Advil and wondering if this was the kind of thing I should go to the Emergency Room for at three in the morning. I finally had to acknowledge that this problem wasn’t going away.

Because I’m dumb, escapist or all of the above, I walked into my dentist appointment, a week later, thinking I probably just needed an overdue cleaning and a filling or two. Despite the pain I was in, I knew I took good care of my teeth when it came to daily flossing, brushing and general dental hygiene. I thought that was all that mattered, so imagine my surprise when X-Rays revealed penetrating cavities in all of my molars. I needed two root canals on the worst of them and thousands of dollars worth of fillings in the rest. How did it get this bad? What was I doing wrong? My dentist took all of my questions in stride and said that my daily hygiene habits couldn’t fully combat what seems to be a case of bad genetics and infrequent visits to the dentist.

Curse you, genetics and my apparent inability to function like all the other 23-year-olds who don't avoid the dentist for six years. 

Nearly a year later, the end of all my dental work was nearly in sight, when my body decided to throw me one last curve ball. It was a tortilla chip that turned out to be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back (and my tooth), when one of my back molars fractured straight down the middle as I bit down on a chip heaped with homemade guacamole. My body entered fight or flight mode, as I ran to my bathroom and spit out a chunk of tooth big enough to tuck under my pillow for the tooth fairy, and “Mmm Whatcha’ Say” played somewhere in the recesses of my mind, as I watched it circle the drain in slow motion. It didn’t hurt (a root canal killed all feeling in that tooth, months ago), but I had to sit down on the floor for 20 minutes, before I sent my family a photo of the broken tooth with the obligatory “dude, look what just came out of my mouth” caption. Then, I called the dentist for an emergency appointment (in that order).

As I’m writing this, I still only have half a tooth and an upcoming appointment for crown-lengthening surgery. Because, of course, I do. But my dental health has become my number one priority on my self-care list, this year, and, at this point, I see it as one more thing to do for the sake of my own well being. I can’t believe I put myself through so much pain before I decided to ask for help, in the first place, and I've resolved never to neglect my physical health again, if I have the means to do something about it. I’m proud of the way I’m seeing the whole process through and grateful that I’m able to get the care that I need. Investing in healthy teeth will directly affect my overall physical health and self-confidence in the future, and, in that regard, I believe that this past year has been worth the financial investment and all those uncomfortable hours spent in a dentist’s chair.