What I Learned About Self-Care from My Dentist’s Office


Last week I went to the dentist, just for a check-up and cleaning.  The hygienist asked me somewhere in the appointment how often I am flossing.  I don’t floss every day….or at least I haven’t been.  And six months ago, the same hygienist asked me the same question.  She was new to me six months ago, and while I don’t really know what I said at the last appointment, I remember feeling shame when I left that appointment.  Honestly, I felt shame leading up to this appointment.  I knew she’d bring it up.  I knew my answer hadn’t changed much.  The conversation didn’t go terribly.  She reminded me of tips and tricks to remember to floss every day.  She even, as she got ready to floss my teeth, walked me through step-by-step, how to floss my teeth.  At first, I thought, it’s funny she thinks the reason I am not flossing is because I don’t know how.  And then it hit me….. I am a believer in self-care.  I’ve written about it here, here, here, and here.  I bring it up in intake paperwork when you are a brand-new client.  I bring it up on the regular from the first appointment and going forward.  Flossing is to this hygienist as self-care is to me. I’m about to get meta, so hang with me. While flossing could be considered a form of self-care, I’m going to use it as a metaphor for self-care, as a whole,  at the same time.  So here are my takeaways as I thought about that dentist appointment in relationship to self-care.

  1. I wanted to tell the hygienist that I’m doing pretty good to get to the dentist office every six months.  There was a time when I didn’t do that, and honestly, I dread it because I have fairly sensitive teeth and the cleaning process is not fun.  When it comes to self-care, be sure to give yourself lots of credit for any efforts you make. Sometimes self-care is getting out of bed….sometimes it is getting to your therapist appointment….sometimes it is setting a boundary and not taking a phone call.  
  2. That shame I was feeling was not the hygienist’s fault. One could argue that healthcare professionals can deliver things in such a way that we often feel shame, but that may not necessarily be their intention.  Regardless, I don’t have to take on that shame.  Shame is seldom a good motivator (if at all)….even if it comes from within.   Instead, I am going to see if I have something else going on with why I don’t remember to floss daily. When it comes to self-care, instead of feeling shame, we can be curious about motivation (or lack thereof) to act on the self-care we know we need to do be doing….go to number 3.
  3. Maybe there is a subconscious reason for me forgetting to floss. I am truly looking at that.  I wanted to say I am not making it a priority, but I know flossing is a good idea.  I know our mouth health is important.  It literally takes what, like 60 seconds to do at night when I brush my teeth?  Maybe I am somehow thinking I am not worth that little bit of extra time.  Maybe I am overwhelmed with other things and just tired when I go to bed at night.  It’s just information for me to look into.  The same idea can be applied to any self-care task we deem a good idea…..what keeps us from acting?  If it’s overwhelming, maybe we are shooting too high and need to adjust the goal….or maybe we can look at other things in our life that might need to be addressed adding to the overwhelm.  

I think self-care can be a great avenue for growth.  It is a message to ourselves that we have value.  This exact message could be a subconscious reason we don’t act on even the smallest of self-care….maybe we have an underlying belief that we aren’t worth it.  Deep heavy sigh.  That could be something to work out with a professional.  I do think there is something to be said of trying to do small acts of self-care and nurturing as an effort to challenge that underlying belief. Disclaimer:  Please don’t hear me say that I don’t think flossing is important.  I know it is a good idea and helps with mouth and gum health.  Since my appointment last week, I am trying to change my pattern and floss more.