How to fix an obsessive compulsion about teeth
Being a dentist has very negative connotations – pain, discomfort, intimidating, expensive, etc. People always tell me that they don’t want to see me and I know it’s nothing personal.
I understand it completely. We major in minors looking at our working area the size of an 🍎. A lot can be revealed about the human body condition just by looking into the mouth.
The job fits me just fine though sometimes it is a back-breaking job, no pun intended. But I may have carried the love of dentistry too far into my home.
You would expect a dentist’s family members to have perfect dental health right? Wrong. They are far from ideal. I have myself to blame for being overzealous.
For decades, my parting shot in the evening to my spouse was “ Dear, have you brushed your teeth”? It was a good reminder in the beginning, but after many years, I realized that I have morphed into a form of a nagger and the purpose of my question had worn off.
Sometimes, I was compelled to mention this very important statement of my life and his eyes would just roll up.
I thought I could alert my kids into being concerned about their teeth. I would tell them about the consequences of bad teeth which could impact their appearance, function, speech, and esteem. It would have worked if I had stopped at maybe a few times.
Now they are actually afraid to see the dentist and not forthcoming as patients.
The overzealous dentist in me would attach images on our family WhatsApp for maximum effect. until my husband hollered, “ Stop sending ugly images of teeth! You are killing our appetites”!
Notwithstanding that it was done with a noble intention. Because I really want to promote healthy teeth.
One day, my son said to me,” Mum, you are such a boring conversationalist. All you talked about is teeth. My friend could talk to his mother for hours. “
I know. My friends made friends with their children, tried to get to know their friends. When their kids turned 18, they were so concerned. They told me, “ Hey, this is the age when their hormones are raging. Have you told your kids about the birds and the bees and prepared them for the inevitable?”
And that’s what they gave their kids – those square little plastic packets containing rubber sheath that can prevent you from being elevated to the status of a grandmother.
However, that subject was taboo to me. I believed their curiosity and intelligence were way beyond their years. I presented my children with the latest version of the toothbrushes and toothpaste for plaque removal.
My present to my spouse will always the most coveted electric toothbrush too.
Come to think of it, most of my gifts are current toothbrushes that are of optimum efficiency and relevant toothpaste.
It did not help that whenever I see everyone at home eating cakes, I would drop subtle hints that they have to expel those enemies (resident bacteria in the mouth)soon or they may have a big wild party feasting on their teeth and gums. I am a party pooper. I love cakes and ice-cream and have become a more sweet tooth person with age but somehow I see myself eligible to indulge – that’s because not long after eating, I would expel everything sweet from my mouth.
Guess I am disciplined enough to brush after meals. Don’t forget that I have a prophylaxis machine in the clinic that I can use anytime in the day at my disposal so……..
Last night, I played a smarter game. My husband fell asleep at the TV. Aghast that he would miss brushing his teeth as he was likely to just plop into bed, I used my sweetest voice and said, “ Honey, let me help you upstairs.” I couldn’t utter the words, “ Please remember to brush your teeth” So, I said, “ remember to get a good rinse, yeah” That was the closest I could get to remind him to brush his teeth.
Imagine my anguish when I spotted any decay or gum inflammation in my children! My maternal response kicked in. My fears were realized and my senses were heightened. At that moment, nothing else was more significant but fixing the matters at hand! My heart ached to see their teeth damaged in any way.
I told them, “ You have inherited such good teeth and you did not take care of them!” Thanks to the availability of a dental camera, I was able to highlight the defect instantly on my monitor and hoped that the image would turn them into conscientious dental patients.
I conceded that in other patients, the same condition would not trigger such a defensive response. I would do my job dutifully and happily knowing that I have all the tools to fight the enemies on every front.
So far, due to my compulsion to expose the enemy and its detrimental effects, some of my most recalcitrant patients have maintained good oral health and kept their wallets intact for a long time.
In my opinion, a compulsive person can be a perfectionist but an excessive one may drive others away. A compulsive person who is obsessive may bring out the best in his trade but may rub others wrongly if he imposes his compulsion on others. It is still better than apathy.
How to overcome this compulsion
1 Understand the simple adage that you cannot bring a horse to the river’s edge and make it drink. You may think that you are helping others but they see you as a nuisance. Give your best advice if you must, then stay away.
In the Analects of Confucius, the Master said, ‘Advise them to the best of your ability and guide them properly, but stop when there is no hope of success. Do not ask to be snubbed.’.
2 Overcome your own expectations and anxiety— What is not perfect for you may be alright for others. It is actually your own wish and peace that you are trying to seek. It is your own fear that you need to overcome. If you want others to become what you want, then be the best version of yourself. This is a more inspiring way. That means showing my well-kept teeth always!
3 Know that experience is the best teacher. — When one is obstinate about a certain behavior that is harmful, the consequences will catch up with him. It is the universal principle of cause and effect.
In metaphorical parlance, you need to bring yourself to the edge of a cliff before you would back off. A smoker finally stops smoking when cancer strikes. A lazy person finally looks for work when nobody feeds him. A patient finally takes care of his teeth after he finds out that dental expenses can be exorbitant.
I still lapse into the occasional comment, “ Don’t forget to brush your teeth and gums ”, “ Remember to change your toothbrush regularly!”, and the most current one, “There is now a COVID-mouth connection!”
The last statement comes from research that shows that given two patients with Covi-19 infection, the one with the gum disease is more likely to succumb.
There you are! I have a very current, legitimate reason to promote good oral health.