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On Saving Your Teeth

I used to hate going to the dentist. Like, more than just ‘prefer not to go’ feelings. Full-on visceral, I’d rather rip a hangnail up to my elbow kind of hate. As a bonafide adult, I once avoided it for *coughs and lowers voice* 5 years before having to make an appointment. For one, I have a low tolerance for pain above the neck. Seriously. I pluck an eyebrow hair wrong and I’m in tears folded in half on the bathroom floor. But for two, every dentist I tried – and I’m talking upwards of about a dozen or so in my lifetime – were all just awful. One dude, I swear, literally put a napkin on my chest where he then proceeded to lay the tools he used for my session. Scrapers. That tiny mirror do-hickey. Cotton. Not on that rolling table thingy. No. ON MY CHEST.

Now, clearly they weren’t all total suckfests. Each one had clients. LOTS of clients given some of the wait times I endured. And since I didn’t figure that many people were in the same camp I was on the hatred thing, I just figured it was me. I was the one with the problem. I was different and needed something the dental community was clearly unable to give. So I stopped going altogether. Which totally worked until I started having some pretty significant pain in one of my toofers. It got bad enough that I panicked and searched out dentist number 4,295 and headed over. And to my utter, jaw-dropping surprise, he was PHENOMENAL. Now, remember. Five years avoiding a dentist. Current pretty crappy pain. And so, me calling this dude phenomenal – I mean, that should tell you exactly how fantastic that experience was for me. Something about his calm approach, his relative pain-free style (of which I am still mystified)….his whole mojo just had my number. I was amazed.

So yay me, right? Well, the sucky part was the damage done from avoiding proper dental care for so long was already done. There was no going back to a perfect set of chompers. But he put me on a plan. Got me on a regular schedule. And rightened the wrongs as best and as wonderfully as he could. And it worked because that guy, he fit me. He fit my style, my dental needs. See, Mr. Toolsonchest might be a fine fit for some folks (though frankly, I wish I could go back in time and throw a temper tantrum in that office because, like, yeah, that’s gotta be a no-no, right??), but he wasn’t for me. But at the time, I honestly didn’t know that I should keep looking. That there WAS, in fact, someone out there that would be a good match for my low tolerance, abhors the dentist self. I just figured they were all basically the same.

And you guessed it. Same-same on the mental health piece. Me, I have a very particular skill set. I do really well with the people who choose to work with me. But I’m not for everyone. And if you’re seeing a good therapist/coach/counselor/mentor/random person to help with your mental health needs, they darn well better say the same. No mental health worker worth their weight claims to be a fit for everyone. I’ve actually recommended potential clients to others because I knew those people had needs that would be better matched with someone with a different skill set than mine. The story I often hear goes something like, “I went to therapy in the past and it helped for a little while. But then, I don’t know, it just felt like we weren’t going anywhere. I felt like I was paying someone just to sit there.” So they stopped going to therapy and never figured that there could be someone out there who might be a better fit for what they’re looking for.  Then, the pain hits. The pain that tells them they have to go see someone, but they’re so disenchanted from their last experience that they just spin the globe and head out to where ever their finger lands. The problem with this approach is, if you’re really lucky, you’ll score an awesome dentist. Otherwise, sadly Mr. Toolsonchest might be the experience that keeps you from ever trying again.

I wish I had found my dentist early on. I wish I had kept at searching for someone that fit my needs instead of just throwing up my hands and avoiding going. Because I could have avoided so much work and pain in the now by getting the right kind of help all along. So what do you do? You reading this article and relating? You keep looking. Don’t you dare give up. There IS a match for you. There IS a person out there that has a style that’s going to give you that peace of mind. Someone that tells your core that you’ve finally found a person who can help put you on the right path. The one that will give you hope.

Now, if you’re on the hunt, you’ll want to ask questions. Sorry. Not want. NEED to ask questions. It will save you time and frustration, and if you’re currently headed down a dark pathway, maybe save your life. Here’s a few of my favorites:

• Tell me of a time when you helped a client who had similar issues as me. What was the outcome?

• What continuing education have you done recently? (Because if you’re looking for, say, someone to help with your marriage, but their past several conference attendances were in child development, it might not be the best fit)

• What will our first few sessions look like?

• How long do you see us working together before we reevaluate whether or not this is working? (They honestly should have an answer for this)

Ask away. And if you get pushback, you’re better off moving on. Because if the person who should be helping you stabilize or improve your mental health doesn’t have the time to make sure they’re a fit for you, money (not your best interests) is likely all they have in mind. 

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