Grinding my teeth, grounding myself

I went to the dentist on Tuesday.

Like the actual dental office, with a person putting her hands in my mouth and being close to my face.

It was … blissful. A stranger touching me and taking care of me, taking care of a part of my body that feels the stress of the last few months in a steady grinding and clenching of my teeth, an ache in my jaw.

In the general scheme of the dozens of dental visits over my life, it was uneventful. My hygienist cleaned my teeth, we talked about her spending most of the lockdown with her mom in Newfoundland, I was praised for my brushing and flossing (where else are we praised for basic personal hygiene?), I declined xrays. I paid and left.

But of course, it was extraordinary. It was the first post-lockdown non-emergency day for my dentist.

I happened to have a regular bi-annual appointment on the first day they reopened, and they called last week to ask if I was comfortable coming in. They asked about my health, I asked about protocols, and then I got actually excited.

The protocols were… thorough. The usual masks etc., but also physical screening for temp and oxygen before I entered, and sealed off treatment rooms fully disinfected between patients. A peroxide solution rinse before the hygienist touched me, and no use of any tools that might aerosolize.

The list of protocols sounds kind of daunting and bonkers. Walking through the plastic-heavy zone of doors felt dystopic. But once I was in the chair? We were two people, talking about the heaviness of the week, settling into our roles as health provider and client.

And… I relaxed in a way I hadn’t since March. I settled into being taken care of, the unexpected affirmation of having someone take care of a part of my body.

Chilled out after a 60km ride with Kim

I started reflecting on how my relationship to my body has shifted so many times since the lockdown started. I’ve moved from needing the structure of daily virtual classes to move at all to — in the past week — yearning to just let my body tell me what it needs. So this week, running, riding, self-guided yoga.

But my consciousness of my body is shifting again, this week of uprising and turmoil.

I’ve tuned back in this week to deep consciousness that the body I treat as my own personal, individual body, a body I relate to with workouts and movement — this is also body defined by its race, its gender, its age, its size — with a lived experience and privilege that is completely mediated by those accidents of genes and history.

This week, I have a deep, atavistic sorrow I can’t put into words about the broken-ness of the way we as humans have created our world. Like so many people, I yearn to make things different, recognize that I’m a complicit part of the structures that shape this world of inequity and oppression. And I know that this knowledge is fumbling, insufficient. But I also know that fumbling and insufficient are a start, and they are the only way I’ve ever accomplished anything.

Going to the dentist might seem like a weird way to feel reawakened to my body in all its implications. But caring for my teeth reminded me of the power of simple touch, simple caring, human interaction, the need for the most basic kindness and being attuned to other people. Listening and responding to what my body needs reminds me that that listening is where I need to be right now. Listening, and recognizing that my body isn’t just “my” body — it’s also part of a human system, where my features aren’t just mine, aren’t just neutral, but shape the lived experience of the people around me.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and hopes in Toronto.

2 thoughts on “Grinding my teeth, grounding myself

  1. When even going to the dentist seems like wonderful human contact, we are truly in new times. Fumbling and insufficient made me think–perhaps that is exactly what we need more of, because it’s trying and it’s knowing we need to try and keep on trying, because we don’t have it right yet.

  2. With you on the teeth grinding! I have two night guards and I bit one in half. That’s what would def make me go to the dentist, if I break this one. I can’t sleep without it. I have sore jaws in the morning too. I’ve turned down my routine cleaning but I have chipped an artificial front of one of my teeth and I now have a weird gap. At some point I’ll go and get that fixed. Between that and the grey hair, it’s my new COVID look. Hugs!

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