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Once You’ve Had Problems, It’s Far Easier to Backslide

·810 words·4 mins

Like a lot of other people, I was really excited when I finally got my chance to get the COVID vaccine.

Maybe it’s not other people’s idea of fun, but one of the very first things I did was schedule an appointment to go see the dentist for a cleaning.

I was overdue to go. It didn’t help that just a few months before the pandemic I’d relocated cross-country to a completely new area. When COVID hit, finding a local dentist and setting up a visit was the last item on my adulting to-do, the last remnant of everything that needed to be done for the move (taking a backseat to other concerns related to fixing up and selling our old house, etc.)

Having relocated to the area for professional reasons, we’d hoped that coworkers would be a good source of information about a good dental practice. That was, after all, how we’d found our old dentist — a lot of Justin’s coworkers went there and raved about the place.

But this time, we were instead met with complaints about how everyone hated their own dentists and why.

Not a promising start.

Anyway, it was there as something I was working on — before the pandemic swept in and it was even easier than before to procrastinate on it.

Yes, I Made a Bracket System. I’m Like That.

Anyway, after I got my first COVID vaccine shot and had an appointment set up for the second, I did extensive research online of the dentists in our area. I read their websites, read online reviews (not simply glancing at aggregate scores but digging in deep).

Then I basically created a makeshift bracket system where I made them fight against each other, based on various criteria that were important to us (competence, good location, fair prices, good with patients with dental anxiety — since we both have it, etc.). Exactly like a sports tournament, yes.

And as I compared the practices, a winner emerged. I called to confirm that they accepted our insurance and set up a couple of new patient appointments that were three weeks after we’d both be fully vaccinated.

Once You’ve Had Problems, It’s Far Easier to Backslide

The good news is that the practice was wonderful. Just as good as the one we left behind cross-country.

But I’d be lying if I said it was an easy visit. It wasn’t. I definitely am paying the price for not going to the dentist promptly. I need more work than I expected I’d need. (Yes, even though I was diligent in my home care, in my brushing and flossing).

And there’s a reason for this — I didn’t see a dentist for about 15 years, from 18 to 33. Part of it was dental anxiety, sure, but an even bigger reason was because I didn’t have steady insurance. Plus, my life was a whirling ball of chaos — I had so much more pressing issues that I was contending with (mental health, housing instability, etc.).

So when I finally went in to catch up in my 30s, my mouth was kind of a mess. I paid the price — both financially and also in pain and anxiety — to work through it.

But it’s always going to be with me. Because the damage I did then by not going to the dentist doesn’t just magically go away, you know?

It’s funny because my current issues with my teeth are mostly invisible unless you’re an expert and looking closely and doing things like x-raying my mouth (more in the realm of gums that like to backslide at the drop of a hat than anything more noticeable like missing teeth).

The hygienist clearly felt terrible for me. “It’s not fair,” she said, “but once you’ve had problems, it’s far easier to backslide.”

It’s something I’ll likely always be dealing with. Because of my past, I can’t get away with as much.

Not Just Teeth

And it’s not just teeth either. This helped me to understand her instantly — I have a number of ways I’ve changed over the years. I can easily think about the leaps and bounds I’ve made forward regarding mental health.

There’s a lot of healthy coping behavior I had to develop the hard way over the years. These days I have a pretty good support system — but at the time that I was the sickest, the people in my life actually hampered my progress and hindered it.

Anyway, even now, even with a decent support system, I’m finding that I have to be ever-vigilant in making sure that I am coping in healthy ways — and that I don’t stop doing the things that ensure that I stay healthy.

Because it would be far too easy to backslide. I know exactly what she means.


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