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Let's Make Better Choices (Life Lessons from Adult Braces!)

There was a gap - a big one. Front and centre, right smack bang in the middle. A gap where a tooth used to be. Now this was an adult tooth, and it had played havoc with me for years due to an unrelenting abscess - the pain had led to the decision to remove the tooth rather than to save it.

The story begins a month after giving birth to my first child. I woke in the middle of the night with a throbbing pain in my bottom gum. I told myself "Get a grip, you've just given birth, go back to sleep, it'll be fine." To only lie awake for a couple of hours, praying that the pain would subside. Two Paracetamol pain killers later, and there was no let up in the agony. Again, I berated myself: "For goodness sake woman! You've been through labour with less fuss. You can cope with this." But no, I couldn't and an emergency visit to the dentist was needed. The abscess was found, and I was prescribed antibiotics. The general consensus was to have a root canal the following week.

I didn't have the root canal, I was put off by various people and I hoped the abscess would resolve on its own. Fast forward 10 years and I found myself in agony again. Literally rocking with pain until the emergency dentist was available. Same abscess, same problem, same pain. But this time I was resolute - I was going to do something about it straight away. Two months on and I was fitted with fancy clear adult braces, or aligners as they are called. But with a gaping big hole in my front teeth.

I have learned some great life lessons from this. Apart from the importance of good dental hygiene and regular check-ups, this whole process started with an unresolved trauma, which I didn't pay attention to, leading to more pain and suffering until I finally faced the problem head on.

You see, the abscess was caused by some form of trauma to my mouth. I cannot remember how or what might have done this, and it could have happened when I was very young. An abscess can stay dormant for years - the body dealing with the low-level chronic inflammation - until one day, it all becomes too much, and the abscess goes into over drive! When this happened to me, my first mistake was thinking I could cope and spoke to myself unkindly. My inner voice was sternly saying "Don't be silly! Stop being a baby! You're making such a fuss! There are worse things than this!"

When I finally sought professional help, at first, I ignored their advice, thinking I knew best. I also didn't want the discomfort of a root canal. In fact, what I was saying was I would rather stick with this horrendous pain now, patch it up with antibiotics, than dig deep and deal with the issue (and potential drilling!) I wasn't thinking long term and had no consideration for future flare ups. When we bury our heads, avoid the root (pun intended) of our problems - even if we do not know why or how they happened, and especially if they happened to us as children and we were not to blame - we may have short term relief for a few days, weeks, or years, but the problem remains.

Dealing with this problem ten years on required big action, more drastic in the long term than a root canal. Tooth extraction - I'll spare you the details. But let's just say, it was so much easier than I ever thought or imagined. So much less painful than the abscess and whilst I had to sacrifice a tooth, it was absolutely the right decision. Sometimes we must take brave, big action to remove ourselves from a situation or circumstance, or let go of a hurt from the past, a relationship that is no longer healthy or a habit that is causing suffering. We may be experiencing chronic and long-term damage to ourselves if we don't. Sometimes this requires professional help - I could have pulled my tooth out by myself, and believe me, when the pain was at its worst, I wanted to! But that would have left me with more trauma and a great big, bloody gap! Thankfully, I eventually listened to the dentist’s advice and took the best course of action.

You see, our teeth are not set in concrete - they move - and it was described to me by one dentist as our teeth sit in mud and can shift over time. The gap that was left after correct extraction would be closed by the aligners moving my teeth gradually over time, until they were all lined up and straight. The key here is time. The gap wouldn't close overnight. In fact, it took about eight weeks for the aligners to reduce the space slowly and gradually. It took small steps - little by little, day by day for change to happen. It was slow and at times uncomfortable and restrictive. I couldn't snack, had to brush my teeth after meals and couldn't drink hot drinks when wearing my clear braces. I had to comply with 22 hours of wearing my aligners every day, allowing for only two hours of eating and drinking. And there has also been the cost, the practical exchange of money for something so seemingly small. These can be seen as sacrifices made along the way, hardships even. But I have always kept in mind the bigger picture and the goal of a healthy set of gnashers that will last a lifetime.

And so too are our lives: our minds, bodies, relationships; they are not set in stone or concrete, they can be changed when we make better choices. It may take time, sacrifice, discomfort, but we will be thankful in the long run. All the way along I had choices to make - stick with what I have always known (pain, throbbing, overcrowding, eventually a gap in the front of my mouth) or make a better choice (seeking help, tooth extraction, braces, listening to the professionals)? Better choices usually lead to better outcomes, but we can sometimes feel that making a change and following through is harder than the original suffering, and so we stay the same.

My teeth have moved, and I no longer have a gap. I'm sitting here with my aligners next to me as I drink a hot cup of coffee. I wouldn't wish a tooth abscess on anyone, but it has taught me a great deal. I can make better choices; I can take difficult decisions and follow through each day with short term discomfort for long term gain. Think about areas of your life where you can do the same. You may need to face up to something that has been nagging away at you for years. You may need professional help to support you in moving forward. You will certainly need to be brave in taking action and determination to follow through with small steps, day by day, until you see the change you hope for.

If this is you, please reach out, to me or someone you trust. It would be great to chat with you more about this, and you can email on here or send me a DM via my Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and brush my teeth!

Image via Unsplash

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