On Monday I went for my routine hygienist and check-up appointments at the dentist.
Having suffered trauma as a little girl from intense, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes brutal, dental treatment, going to the dental surgery for any type of treatment is not exactly fun. It became worse when a trusted dentist completely wrecked my teeth and gums with ill-fitting crowns. This left me with a mouthful of trouble.
Thankfully, I was introduced to a wonderful dentist in London. He has done his best to bring me to an improved state of dental health. I remember a year ago he had to do a very difficult extraction (apparently, I have very hard bones!). I used my mindfulness practice to see me through the lengthy, uncomfortable and painful procedure. I relaxed my body as much as possible and felt the chair supporting me. I dropped into the back of my body and focussed on my breath. He did comment that ‘I was doing well!’.
I kept doing short body scans throughout, whilst using breath as a support. Each time I noticed my heart thumping, or my hands gripping the chair or each other, or my shoulders rising, I was able to take a breath and relax back down again. I was very grateful for my mindfulness practice to get me through. Also, my compassion practice came to the rescue as I offered myself kindness for having to go through this somewhat unpleasant experience.
On this occasion I saw a hygienist I hadn’t met before. Whilst she carefully and diligently set about doing her work, she talked to me all the time. She told me about evidence from some research that had been done about mindfulness, compassion and neuroscience in relation to dental treatment.
As my mouth was full of suction tools, mirrors, fingers in rubber gloves and cleaning implements I just listened. I nodded or grunted every now and again. I noticed how it made me feel to just listen and not be able to speak. I realised that speaking would make what she was saying all about me.
She was talking about the importance of mindfulness and compassion when cleaning our teeth. I wanted to tell her I was a mindfulness and compassion teacher. I wanted to tell her that everything she was saying made sense, was exciting and related to what I did. But I couldn’t.
I listened with total fascination to what she was saying. Even though I live and breathe mindfulness and compassion through my practice, work with the Mindfulness Association and teaching, sometimes I forget the ways in which I can be mindful.
In our Level 1 – Being Present training we learn how to be mindful in daily life, but it had never occurred to me to make my evening dental routine a mindful practice. Let alone a compassion practice. This is what she taught me.
Many of us have suffered trauma from dentistry, even as children. I have some memories of some very scary fillings and extractions as a small child. There was one instance where a mask was put over my face to put me to sleep for an extraction which still affects me today. She stressed how important it was to have compassion for ourselves for this.
She said it is important to accept and love our teeth and gums just as they are and think of them with compassion. And to be thankful for them that they are there and functioning, even if they aren’t exactly as we would like.
When we are brushing our teeth, the hygienist recommended thinking of it as a mindfulness practice and not an irritating regime which sits as a barrier between tiredness and getting to bed.
She said every tooth is linked to an energetic meridian in the body and that we should treat each tooth with respect and be mindful and compassionate in the way we brush them. This is because it has an impact on the body. Then we should massage our gums gently – with compassion. She said this act helps heal dental trauma and changes the neuropathways in the brain to positive feelings and attitudes.
So it seems I have a new mindfulness and compassion practice in my life. How about you?
So – yes you have guessed it, this week’s challenge is to turn your evening toothbrushing routine into a mindfulness and compassion practice.
Mindfully brush each tooth with compassion and notice how you feel about your teeth. Notice if there are any feelings of dislike or memories of the dental procedure. Notice how this feels in your body. Then bring compassion to your teeth and gums.
Please do let me know how you get on by leaving a comment after this post or writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacky will be co-teaching Level 1 – Being Present with Alan Hughes at Samye Ling 13 – 15 March 2020 and on the Level 2 – Responding with Compassion with Heather Regan-Addis at Samye Ling starting 5-7 June 2020.
We’d love to see you there. If you can’t make it, how about taking the Level 1 course online.
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