Alright, I’m going to start right out by admitting something very private: I’m totally afraid of going to the dentist.
Early in November, my husband and I went on a “dental date” to see the dentist together. We expected the findings to be a simple cavity for me and a larger cavity for him, but—shock!—we heard that we both need massive amounts of dental work—like dental work the size of a small Honda (financially speaking).
Dental work the cost of a small Honda
Since that fateful day we were handed that scary printout with the 4-digit price tags written all over it, I’ve traveled every kind of emotion road (from panic to insight). Our sweet marriage is still new, and our shared financial life is even newer, and now this. Oh my!
It’s been quite the deep process! Along the way, I’ve talked with friends about their dental experiences, their dental hopes and dreams, and even dental shame! We’ve purchased dental insurance (which, while not thrilling in its benefits, should end up saving us 20% or so overall); and we’ve rethought all of our financial planning for 2019.
We also made appointments with a different dentist for second opinions.
“We need a tooth fairy!”
One evening in early December, standing by the kitchen sink in the throws of (not quite) dental despair, I suddenly flashed to this: We need a tooth fairy!
That’s exactly what we need! Tooth fairies are very comforting, magical, and kind. And best of all, they bring you money when you have dental issues!! 🙂
Meanwhile, today I went to the new dentist. I surprised even myself by pretty much starting the appointment by crying (and saying i’m scared . . . of both the pain and the money). The dentist had a very compassionate and calming reaction to that.
Side note: I guess there are probably a zillion ways to rate a dentist, but I want to read a Google reviews page where everyone rates their dentist by answering this question, “So, if you started your dental appointment by crying, how well did your dentist respond?” I give my new dentist 5 stars on that one!
I cried. He listened, and he was kind. His exam was much gentler than the first dentist, and he was calm. I got calmer. He ended up offering me a diagnosis that was pretty much identical to the first dentist, but somehow it felt more doable, not overwhelming. And at the end of the exam, he walked me up to the front desk and stood with me while we went over the prices and insurance details. This dentist’s presence was comforting (not overwhelming), and in the end, right before I left, he asked if he could give me a little hug.
But probably the most helpful thing he said or did was this:
In the beginning, after I cried, I said that I’d truly intended, no matter what, not to cry, He said, “I’ve got three words that might change your life: ‘And,’ ‘it’s,’ ‘ok.” He offered that I could add these words to pretty much any personal statement, like:
- “I cried, and it’s OK,” or
- “I’m late [and I’ll call], and it’s OK,” or
- “[insert any personal worry] and it’s OK.“
“I’ve got three words that might change your life: ‘and,’ ‘it’s,’ ‘ok.'”
It works! The helpful addition of “and it’s ok” to any sentence soothes because it calms the worrying mind. It’s an interesting experiment adding “and it’s ok” onto different sentences that are floating a whole, colorful bouquet of worries, limits, or potentially-false beliefs. (It doesn’t work so well with sentences about the suffering of others, but it works really well with personal suffering!)
This little practice reminds me of mindfulness teacher Tara Brach‘s recent words, when she suggested saying to yourself (about any sort of unpleasant, undesired experience or feeling): “I consent. This too is here.”
I consent. This too is here.
So, yes, I really did go to the dentist today, and 30 seconds into the exam, tears arose and they really did start flowing down my cheeks because I was that scared, and it’s ok.
Like a mother’s warm words
Mentally saying “and it’s ok” feels like hearing a mother comforting a young child, and hearing those words in my own voice/heart felt so good to me today while I sat there in that dentist chair.
Saying these three words also feels somewhat like dipping your amygdala into a little oat bath.
Finally, these words, which feel like a mother’s warm words, also feel like a mini prayer to Green Tara, the female buddha of compassionate action who appears swiftly whenever called. (One of her superpowers is alleviating fear!)
So what about the tooth fairy?
The tooth fairy (or truth fairy? 🙂 ) is a truly magical being. I think she must take many forms! I think I actually did meet her today, there at the dentist.
The tooth fairy is traveling kindness, and she is a bringer of tiny treasures and small gifts that comfort and delight.
Sometimes words are a gift.
Just 3 little words today.
And it’s OK.