I have a dentist appointment coming up. I’m an anxious person, and in recent years, much of my anxiety has come to center on my dental health, or lack thereof. Growing up I went to a good dentist, and he took good care of my teeth. But as a teenager I got really into drinking lots and lots of soda pop. And then I started smoking (and I only finally quit when I was 32). And in my 20s I got really into drinking (and gave that up just before I turned 30). Meanwhile, I did not floss, and I rarely brushed. I often wonder how much of my anxiety over whether or not my teeth will fall out is basically guilt for not taking care of myself for all those years.
I didn’t really understand how to floss properly until my dentist had one of the assistants demonstrate it for me a few years ago. Flossing is super important, it turns out, for preserving one’s teeth. Brushing is helpful, of course, but it’s flossing that seems to really do the magic of getting rid of the harmful gunk that will rot out your teeth. Although not consuming highly acidic drinks (like coffee, tea, and alcohol) and junk food helps on that front too. I frequently find myself wishing that I had started flossing in high school.
My fears surrounding my teeth, it would seem, are basically a kind of existential dread. All those wasted years, all those bad choices, now come back to me. I look on my infant son and wish that I had made better choices so that I would now be able to provide better for him, to be around longer. But alas! Those years are gone. I cannot go back to the late 90s, I cannot take back the days spent listless, sitting in cafes having conversations about nothing. What I can do is try not to make myself miserable now over it. And I’m trying.
Nothing is easy.