Monday, March 29, 2010

Open Wide

I love metaphors. I can’t resist them, even when they feel a little bit tortured. So I couldn’t help thinking about Al-Anon at my last visit to the dentist.

I know, I know. Work with me people.

I used to hate the dentist. My teeth might as well be made of steel. But my gums are made of kryptonite.

It’s partly hereditary. My mother struggled with her gums, too. She lost her first tooth to gum disease when she was pregnant with me (I’ve learned to live with that). She had false teeth by the time she was 60.

So I’ve been at war with my gums all my life.

Mostly, my dentist is pleased with me when I do what I’ve been taught. When I brush my teeth for at least two minutes twice a day and floss at least once.

I know that when I do these things my numbers (indicating the state of my gums) will improve.

Over the years, adding the right tools made a big difference. It would not be overstating the case to say the Sonicare toothbrush changed my life. My hygienist tried to convince me for years to get one, but I didn’t have the money. I finally solved the dilemma by asking for one as a gift. Now, I’d beg on the street corner if I had to for a Sonicare.

So my numbers got better and the lectures got fewer. It helps that I’m the type of Al-Anon who finds comfort in routine. Brush, floss, Listerine. Check, check, check.

But then that wasn’t enough.

I knew there was something more I could do. There was another tool at my disposal: interdental brushes that would get at the wider gaps between my back teeth. I knew they worked because as an experiment, I tried once to use them in addition to my regular brushing and flossing and the results were dramatic.

Then I stopped.

Why? I was resistant. I thought, for Heaven’s sake, brushing with a Sonicare for the requisite two minutes, flossing not once, but twice a day, rinsing (for the full 30 seconds!) with Listerine should be enough. It should. There was only so much I was willing to do. And at least I still had all my teeth.

The last time I went to the dentist, my hygienist started talking to me about increasing my visits to three times a year. She invoked the dreaded periodontal surgery option if I didn’t comply.

I didn’t want to do either. So I decided to try the less painful option. I pulled out the interdentals and used them faithfully.

My numbers went down. My hygienist and dentist beamed at me. There was no more talk of seeing each other more often. There was much “keep up the good work” and similar sentiments.

So how is this like Al-Anon?

1. I have a chronic, progressive disease from which I will never be cured.
2. I can, however, enjoy a daily reprieve based on my spiritual maintenance, which means doing the things I’ve been taught on a daily basis.
3. Things go easier when I use the right tools.
4. Sometimes what I think something ought to be enough, isn’t. I need to be willing to go to any lengths for my recovery. Or face more painful consequences.


  1. Wow! Your really did pull that together!! Great job!!!

  2. Guilt guilt guilt... that was all I could think about when I first read this post. Any idea how long it's been since I was at the dentist? Me either.

    Lucky for me, my teeth and gums have always been in great shape. I use a regular toothbrush twice a day and floss once in a while... and i imagine it will catch up with me, one of these days, but it feels like I have so much to work on already!

    That said, you are so right about needing to be at the point where you say, "I am going to do whatever it takes to fix this because i don't want to deal with these consequences any more." I reached that place almost three years ago, and have since then done a lot of stretching, a lot of pushing, a lot of hard work... and it's paying off.

  3. I love metaphors also and this one couldn't have hit home more! I resist so much to my own recovery, thanks for the reminder.

  4. You did it, I do like how you can relate dental hygiene to recovery. We ought to be able to put recovery into our everyday lives like this with every subject imaginable. Sonicare is only sold by dentists, isn't it?

  5. Unfortunately I think the other way that dental care is like recovery is that I have to be DESPERATE before I'm willing to floss daily. Character defect #874.

  6. -woot-... very good. Terrific comparison too..

    ms hen

  7. Just this for a fun add on: I did not like to use floss either. Then I broke my left elbow 3 years ago, and I could not floss! One day I had something stuck in my teeth and I was desperate. I went to Walmart and found these little disposable flossers in a plastic bag. Now I really enjoy flossing with them. I keep them in my car, office, next to the tv, etc.
    These things have been a flossing blessing! ;)

  8. I hate going to the dentist too...thankfully I rarely have caveties...but still I hate the closeness and having to stay still so long. The analogy to alanon is great. Stay strong ok. Sarah

  9. This was too good not to pass on!

  10. Great analogy! Kudos to you for being so diligent with your dental health. I am guilty in not going as often as I should. The dentist always winds up on my list of things to do...trying to break that bad habit.