I neglected my oral health horribly during my years of active alcoholism. By the time I was able to see a dentist, my mouth was in terrible shape. My dental health affected everything: my physical, mental, and emotional health. My bad teeth affected my confidence, relationships, employment, self-esteem, even how I interacted with others were all affected on a daily basis. EVERYTHING. I was held captive by not only by the pain, but also by embarrassment because of my teeth.
Healthy teeth matter.
I’m a person that loves to laugh, but, after catching myself in the mirror one day, I quickly trained myself to only reveal half-hearted, closed-mouth smiles. I was no longer able to look people in the eyes during conversations. This did not bode well for job interviews, or even making friends. I hated the way I looked, and I was positive everyone else felt the same way. Whether intentionally or not, we cannot deny that people often DO automatically judge others on the condition of their teeth. As I worried more about my smile, I experienced more depression and isolation. I’m thankful it did not lead me back to coping with alcohol.
When I was about two years sober, and I’d managed to gain employment, the pain I suffered from two infected teeth was finally intense enough to force me to act. My job offered no dental insurance but luckily, my employer was sympathetic. She sent me to the dentist to get checked out.
I will never forget that day. I was ashamed and terrified not only about what the dentist would find, but also of what she would think. After an exam and x-rays the dentist came back with her suggestions. She spoke supportively, and the assistant patted my back while I burst into sobs right there in the dental chair. I needed multiple extractions—two of which were my top, front teeth. I remember thinking, “I already try not to smile, but at least right now I have TEETH THERE.” The physical pain I was enduring was intense, but the emotional pain that hit my chest when I imagined myself toothless was almost worse.
The dentist explained that they could make me a “flipper”—basically a retainer with false teeth attached where my real ones would be missing. She further explained that after the extractions/flipper procedure, we would take baby steps. I’d come in once every couple months and, starting with the most important teeth, we would slowly get my mouth back in good shape. And we DID IT! The flipper took a while to get used to (on many levels) but today I have zero shame and all the gratitude for it.
Now, I smile. Huge. I laugh. Hard. All. The. Time.
And, with such an amazing, encouraging staff in my corner, I’m still “baby-stepping” my way to my healthiest mouth today (three years later).
I am forever thankful to my employer for working out the financial aspect of this in a way that I can handle. I realize I’m extremely lucky.
I hope anyone who may be allowing fear (like mine) prevent them from participating in this crucial part of self-care, can gain some encouragement from my experience.
You are WORTH IT.