Go to the Dentist!

It’ll be just as bad as you think.

Photo: Ray Larabie/Flickr

For the whole first year after I graduated college, I thought I was going to be the sort of adult who goes to the dentist regularly. I was working a stressful job and was full of post-graduation angst, but I had dental insurance and I was going to use it.

I found a cheery practice called “Gentle Dental” that was so close to my apartment I could see the front desk from my living room. The people were nice there, the office was open late, and I was looking for any excuse to avoid my too-many roommates. Getting regular cleanings and taking care of my teeth felt like concrete steps toward a life of responsibility. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby.

But then I moved to New York. The dentist was a little further away there and, more importantly, I was more in control of my own life. Adulthood stopped feeling so much like a thing I had to perform, which meant that going to the dentist became just another chore. At my last visit, my dentist warned that I had a wisdom tooth coming in. He didn’t think it would require intervention, necessarily, but mentioned that its position meant it would be difficult to care for and ripe for decay. He cautioned me to keep an eye on it.

Reader, I did not.

When I moved to California, I took a job without dental insurance. I know that should not have kept me from going to the dentist, but it did. I got insurance again a year later, but by then I was worried about how bad my teeth had gotten in the interim. Through some combination of genetics, acid reflux, and a sporadic flossing regimen, I am prone to cavities. As much as I try to remind myself that it’s not a moral issue — having bad teeth does not make me a bad person — I have a lot of shame wrapped up in my dental history.

So I put off going to the dentist. A year passed, and then another. Somewhere along the way I read Ester’s kind advice to a similarly-situated Billfold-er, which I thoroughly appreciated and then promptly ignored.

On Overcoming Fear of Tooth-Shaming & Cost To See A Dentist At Last

I finally made an appointment a month ago, more than three years since I had last been in the dentist’s chair. It was time to act like the adult my 22-year-old self had so desperately wanted to be.

Sometimes when people say “I should have done that ages ago!” they mean that the task in question was so easy-breezy it hadn’t been worth putting off. This is not one of those stories. Going back to the dentist was truly terrible. I have five cavities that need to be filled and — surprise! — a decaying wisdom tooth that will need to be pulled. While the initial appointment cost only $6.80, the fillings ($70+ each) and extraction (a whopping $375) are expected to put me back another $763. I should have done this ages ago, not because it was easy but because it didn’t have been this hard. Or this expensive.

I can shoulda-woulda-coulda with the best of them, so this experience has been pretty much torture. If only I had caught the cavities sooner! Think about all I could have done with that $700! What had I been thinking?!

But I know that’s not a productive pattern of thought. I should have gone to the dentist sooner, but I didn’t. All I can do is be glad that I have the emergency fund to pay for this and that I didn’t put it off for a fourth ($$$$) or fifth ($$$$$) or sixth ($$$$$$) year.

Live and learn, right?

Sab has accidentally chosen the wandering life. She currently lives (and flosses daily!) in San Francisco.

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