Oral Health is Health
Because of some terrifying childhood experiences, I’ve since been afraid of the dentist. Add my generalized anxiety on top of that and every cleaning becomes An Event.
When my hygienist begins The Scraping of the Teeth, my entire body tenses. In all seriousness, I have to consciously untense every single muscle in my body.
When my hygienist begins The Poking Around For Some Reason, I panic and my mind decides that I definitely have mouth cancer and poking around is what finds it.
When my hygienist begins The Great Flossing, I’m worried that the floss will somehow become lodged underneath one of my molars, causing one to pop out of my mouth.
When my hygienist begins The Polishing of the Teeth with the Yummy Strawberry Paste, I can relax and only tense up every time the machine whir hits a certain frequency which makes me squint and twitch.
When my hygienist leaves to get my dentist for my final check, I panic if it takes too long because that must mean she’s discussing the several diseases and cancer that she has discovered in my mouth. If he returns quickly, it means that I’m close to death and he needs to check me out immediately before I die.
It’s 45 minutes of pure torture until my dentist gives me the all clear, which he inevitably does because I’m absolutely anal about my oral hygiene.
Thankfully, I now have the world’s best dentist and hygienist who are so accommodating with my anxiety and pull out all the stops to make sure each visit is as painless as possible. I get nitrous oxide, a blanket, headphones to listen to my music with and paraffin wraps for my hands with warming mitts.
I basically have to trick myself into thinking it’s a spa day, and even then every muscle in my body tenses as if on cue. My hygienist checks in periodically throughout the cleaning to make sure I’m still okay, and she always tells me I’m a champ after every visit.
My dentist knows about all of this. He comes by, does his check as quickly as possible, asks if I have any questions, tells me for anything I need to look out for, and then they send me on my merry way after a blast of oxygen to get the nitrous oxide out of my head.
Even though my dentist’s office is hella posh (they offer drinks and snacks in the lobby, and they also offer certain cosmetic services – dental and otherwise, like waxing and Botox), the selling point for me was this: “We take a holistic approach to your oral health.”
They ask about everything from medications to your diet and exercise routines. They want to make sure that every part of your journey is aiding your oral health goals. They’re more concerned with getting to the cause of your issues instead of just treating symptoms. At every appointment, I’m asked if I’ve been recently hospitalized, if there are any new or changes to my medications, if I’ve been ill recently or noticed any changes in my health – oral or otherwise.
I have a toothbrush I love, floss I love and my glorious WaterPik that I love. And now that I’m incorporating these items into my morning and bedtime routines every day, I’ve found that my oral care is largely tied to my self-care.
Every morning, I brush my teeth followed by my WaterPik, in it an antimicrobial herbal solution mixed with water. Every night, I floss then follow that up with toothbrushing. After every brushing, I use a tongue scraper, which is an absolute game changer.
I keep a toothbrush and toothpaste at my desk at work in case my teeth feel fuzzy, or otherwise gross, as well as some floss.
There are the obvious benefits here: I haven’t had a cavity in several years. Food particles are virtually non-existent and there’s not too much plaque to scrape off of my teeth – just a bit in those hard to reach places.
The other benefit is that, in Dirk Gently’s words, there is an interconnectedness to all things. Your teeth are part of you, so if something is going on in your mouth, it can affect other areas in your body, and vice versa.
Over the years, mental health has been at the forefront of my brain. A few years ago, I finally started seeing a therapist and taking meds, and it’s a lot to process. One of the tools my therapists have helped me work on is mindfulness, which sounds fake, I know, but is a very real thing.
The goal of mindfulness is to root yourself in the present. And I don’t mean just being here today; I mean being here and acknowledging each and every second. One of the things that triggers my depression is ruminating on things that were. One of my anxiety triggers is constantly processing what I will be doing tomorrow, next month or next year.
When I’m taking care of my teeth, I’m processing what I’m doing that very moment: I’m placing the floss between my teeth. I’m doing a scooping motion with the floss. I’m removing the floss from between my teeth. I’m doing that wind up thing with the floss around my finger… And I’m placing the floss between the next teeth….
This act keeps me present second by second and exercises those mindfulness muscles so that eventually I won’t have to narrate. It will just come as naturally as worrying about the past or the future.
Aside from all things being connected, there’s a direct relationship to oral health and sexual health. Because here’s the thing: if you’re going down on me (which is wonderful, thank you, let’s keep doing this), you need to have a clean mouth. If I’m so particular about what kinds of tampon and toy materials are being used, you can bet I’m gonna put that same concern into the mouths I encounter.
In that same respect, my mouth is healthy AF. I floss, I irrigate, I brush, I scrape. And guess what? If I’ve given you head, I pre- AND proceed the act with the oral hygiene routine I’m borderline obsessed with doing every morning and night. That way we’re both taken care of with a clean mouth.
Even if you’re kissing someone – do you want them to have gross teeth? No. You don’t. ‘Cause you’re gonna taste it, and no one needs that ruining what would otherwise be a delightful kiss.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Approach
Here’s how all of this comes together for me: if I have taken care of my oral hygiene, I’m feelin’ pretty great. I’m gonna be in a better headspace when I go to work. I’m gonna be more motivated to make better food decisions and exercise. I’m gonna be pretty proud of myself for taking care of my mouth, because a small victory is still a victory. So, when I’m feelin’ pretty great, guess what? Sex is on the table. I’m ready. I’ve had a good day, and I’d like to cap it off with a good night.
Because there have been far too many days that I haven’t felt it. The conditions haven’t been right, or I haven’t been wined and dined, or I just flat out don’t feel good at all, and it took a lot for me to realize that all of those conditions were up to me. For too long I’ve relied on someone else to help me feel good, when I should have been focusing on how to make myself feel good.
So, my oral hygiene routine may seem Extra, but if that’s what it takes for me to function at my best, then Extra shall I be.