Broken Tooth
June 27, 2017

So, a few weeks ago, I broke a tooth while eating some popcorn. So, I went to the dentist, and the dentist sent me to an endodontist. The endodontist recommended a root canal, and we followed through on that recommendation today. I hadn’t been to a dentist in probably twelve years before this, by the way, and I’d definitely never had a root canal before. To be honest, I was pretty worried. My dental experiences as a child weren’t horrifying or anything, but they were usually somewhat painful. In retrospect, perhaps everything is more painful as a child because you haven’t yet experienced most of the various flavors of pain that life has to offer ... and even as of today, my life has been fairly well sheltered from pain. But anyway, today’s appointment was one of the best dental experiences I’ve ever had. The staff was kind and professional, and they explained calmly and clearly everything that they were doing to me. Doctors should never allow that last bit to fall by the wayside: an important aspect of bedside manner from the perspective of a nervous patient like myself is continuous communication about what’s going on. In any kind of doctor’s office, I always feel like a frightened animal in a cage, and it’s deeply reassuring when doctors explain what all the sounds and smells and lights and tubes and shots mean. Anyway, good on the crew at Weatherford Endodontics for the way they treated me today. :)

But I want to take a moment to jot down another quick thought that’s been tumbling around for the last few days because of this event. As I said, I hadn’t been to a dentist in ten or twelve years before this. That negligence was caused by two primary factors. First, I’d always considered myself to be a very careful, conscientious caretaker of my teeth; I’d always believed that I brushed regularly and well. And second, dental care is expensive! But when the tooth broke a few days ago and I went to the dentist, he told me that the tooth looked pretty decayed on the inside. That was really surprising and disheartening for me. I’d thought that I had been taking really good care of my teeth! But I was clearly mistaken, and no amount of denial could conceal the fact that my mouth was missing part of a tooth. I had always assumed, I suppose, that I’d have some kind of warning that my teeth were becoming unhealthy ... like, that I’d feel pain or something. But I didn’t really have any kind of warning in this case. And that made me much more concerned about my overall health. For example, I’d always heard of blood pressure as a “silent killer,” since most people aren’t able to detect high blood pressure without actually putting the cuff around their arm. There are other diseases like that, too, where people have no idea that they have some horrible thing happening to their body until some awful complication appears. Retardedly and biasedly, I always assumed that I would somehow be an exception to those rules, that I would notice about myself what other people failed to notice about themselves. Again, I was wrong in that assumption. So, I’m now trying to be more proactive about both my dental health in particular and my overall health in general. It’s only been a few days since this whole process started, of course, and there’s plenty of time for me to become complacent, but I’m hoping that by writing this all down, I’ll remind myself and others to keep up the good work.

Okay, here’s one more thought. Somehow, this whole thing seems like a parable that a preacher might preach in a sermon. It makes a compelling analogy, doesn’t it? There’d be something in there about how sin creeps into our lives and starts decaying our moral fabric from the inside ... and most of the time, we may not even be aware of it until something in our lives break and we end up cheating on our spouses, or lying on our tax returns, or abusing our children. In fact, as a way of accusing people of this very failure, Jesus called the Pharisees “white-washed tombs” and dishes that were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside. As a sermon, it practically writes itself. Of course, the primary point of contention about this sermon is the extent to which people are aware of their immoral choices. Yes, the man who cheats on his wife is undoubtedly aware that he is making what many would regard to be an immoral choice (even if he himself doesn’t regard it as such), but the more salient questions are whether he has made lots of little choices that have led him to this point and whether he is aware of having made such choices. According to most modern accounts of neuropsychology, our brains make plenty of choices without us being aware of its having made them. So, there are a few interesting questions to ask, regardless of your religious views: (1) To what extent are we preparing our future selves to make morally good or bad choices? (2) Can we be aware of those preparations right now? (3) To what extent can we modify those preparations? and (4) What concrete steps, if any, can and should be taken to modify those preparations? Obviously, religion has plenty of answers to these questions, but I’m curious to know what neuropsychologists would say on the matter, and whether their answers would support the kinds of claims made by religions. For example, mindfulness has become for many a kind of training regimen that helps them to make more thoughtful, less reflexive choices. Of course, mindfulness seems to have been known and used in many religions under various names, but psychologists have only recently studied it and found that there are in fact many benefits to be reaped from its practice.

Whew! That’s a lot of thoughts about something as lame as a broken tooth! Anyway, may your teeth always be straight, healthy, and unbroken. G’day!