I was laying tilted back with my mouth agape, sporting the ever fashionable dentist napkin-thingy, while the dental hygienist poked and prodded with assorted tools.
“Do you brush vigorously?” she asked, scraping away. I cautiously shook my head, to avoid getting stabbed. She tried to figure out why my gums receded and commanded me to heed how hard I brushed. Yes ma’am! As if I’d argue with anyone holding a scalpel-like tool. She proceeded to demonstrate the proper amount of pressure: the equivalent applied gripping the toothbrush with my thumb and forefinger only.
[Note: If you need some cheap entertainment, try actually brushing your teeth this way.]
Guess I’d been clueless. I discovered I used force more equivalent to a shark attacking its dinner. (No wonder sharks constantly lose and regrow teeth.) I needed three fillings at the gum line. The quick procedure equaled immediate relief from the increasing painful sensitivity.
Fast forward three days. I woke up feeling that painful sensitivity returned with a vengeance. And I did what every dentist-fearing reasonable person would do – chewed food on the opposite side of my mouth and waited until my next scheduled cleaning. Two of the three fillings had fallen out. Lovely. Another date with another scalpel-wielding hygienist and dentist. But before I left, I was enlightened, again.
This hygienist pointed out several factors that “clearly indicated” I was a teeth grinder. How is it I’ve lived more than three decades and just now am discovering these things? Teeth grinding popped out my fillings while I slept. (Is it bad to swallow fillings in your sleep?) Buy a nightguard, she said. Today, she said. I did as I was told.
And then I had the fillings re-filled.
“It’s going to be such a fast and painless procedure, it’s not worth using anesthesia,” the dentist said, flashing his own set of pearly whites. I fell for it. It was sort of fast. It was not painless.
I tried not to attack my teeth with a fury when I brushed. I wore the nightguard. I thought I’d re-trained myself. I was confident I’d improved so much I didn’t need the nightguard every night.
You know what’s coming, don’t you? I lost the filling, again.
Third time’s the charm? The dentist’s furrowed brow and absence of his normal jovial smile preceded a longer RE-re-filling with a stronger material. This time, I asked for anesthesia.
So the lessons, as I see ‘em:
- Don’t believe the dentist when he says it’s going to be fast and painless. Definitely don’t let him decide for you. I really do like my dentist. (As in, the less I see him, the more I like him.)
- THANK GOD for anesthesia! (Unless you have reactions to it worse than to the procedure. Lord have mercy on you, if that’s the case!)
- If you grind your teeth at night, WEAR THE <insert adjective of choice> NIGHTGUARD!
- Be gentle to myself. Gentleness, by my understanding, is power under control. (Makes me think of some burly dude cradling a newborn.) Be gentle to myself was truly my main takeaway. The pain and dental bills caused me to examine if there were more serious parts of my life in which I was unknowingly harsh. How long had I nodded acknowledgement to grace while remaining shackled to penance under the guise of truth? I am infinitely shielded from God’s wrath because of Jesus, if I so choose. The implications of such an amazing gift spill over into all realms of life – spiritual, physical, emotional, dental… Receding gums isn’t a sin, but how I treat myself might be.
- Learning to be gentle to myself is not an intuitive process. I just thought mental flogging was a natural byproduct of having high standards. It comforts me that God, whose standards are humanly unattainable, offers His own perfection to me and helps me flesh out its application – to others and myself.
Instead of inflicting needless, totally preventable damage to myself – dental, emotional, or otherwise – I get to be, and NEED to be, gentle to myself. Gentleness is a divine byproduct of letting Jesus manage my life.
It feels strangely opposite what I think I should do – like I’m opening someone else’s gift and shocked to discover it belongs to me. I’m still prone to mentally beating myself up, but I’m not beating myself up over not having that down yet. 😉
- A small change can make a huge difference. Just a simple redirection from “I’m such a loser. I’ll never be able to ____” to “I’m learning. I’m going to get better at ____” has drastically cut wasted time paralyzed in fear and has prompted significant forward movement in my life. And bonus: I like myself more!
- Sometimes I need additional help. The whole nightguard thing? I may desperately want to not grind my teeth, and maybe I’m great while I’m awake, but I can’t control every aspect of my life. There’s no shame in that. I’m quite certain God designed us to need each other. I’m learning to resist less and submit faster to this fact. Sometimes even reach out and ask for help even though it usually scares the crap out of me. (If something scares the crap out of you, then you can’t be full of crap, right? Sorry! Moving along.)
Who would have guessed three trips to the dentist later, my biggest takeaway is to be gentle to myself? And really, who better to practice on so I can get it right with others? How gentle are you to your teeth…and the rest of you? What surprising applications of God’s grace have you discovered?