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Why am I so afraid of the dentist?

Why am I so afraid of the dentist?
By twenty-something. • Issue #13 • View online
by Bianca Smith
Turns out it’s more complicated than the pain of the chair.
By putting off the dentist a few extra months because of—you know, the global pandemic—I thought I was making the right choice. 
I used to think of these appointments like they were taught to me: unintrusive, low-stakes check-ups. Go about your routines, if your routines stay the same, you’ll stay “in good health.” Turns out, that’s wildly naive. I had plaque between my gums. Skipped right over the, “Yeah we’ll have to scrape stuff off your teeth” part and went straight into, “You’ll want to be numbed for this, trust us.” 
I even got a, “So…how’s flossing been going?” Love that. Clearly not very well, thanks.
Navigating how to “be well” continues to prove more complicated, more frustrating, and shockingly easier to dismiss as I journey deeper into my twenties. 
This brush with gingivitis felt like a defeat. It was yet another example of how my body has shape-shifted since I finished school, entered the workforce, and settled into place. It was, seemingly, a prime example of my inability to appropriately take care of myself.
My running list of contributing factors is dense. It includes, but is not limited to, shaky work-life balance; figuring out how to find “the perfect match” of a care practitioner; fear of uncovering something dire; not understanding the nuances of the healthcare industry; and a healthy dose of denial. 
And while it feels relatively ridiculous to weigh the reasons why I haven’t gone to the dentist when I have the means to, it is necessary to consider why there’s this mammoth mental mountain to get there. 
Is it that I figure all I need is a Waterpik and my gum issues will be resolved? Or that I know a 30-minute appointment isn’t nearly enough time to discuss all of the bodily changes I’ve undergone in the past handful of years? 
Is it that TikTok can give me a handful of ways I can augment my eating habits to feel more energized? Or that I acutely understand my health is simultaneously completely in and out of my control?
I read somewhere recently that caring for your body means listening to it. Well—if that’s true, I’ve been wearing noise-canceling headphones. Music playing, full blast, eyes closed, moving on. My body has undeniably changed. For better or worse, that is the truth. Instead of facing that fact with fear, I wonder what the day-in-a-life of my body would look like if I simply accepted it? If I stomached, genuinely, that 26 is supposed to look different than 21 or 23.
There’s an intangible (but powerful) freedom that comes with reconnecting with myself where I’m at. Recognizing—actually, accepting—that change is just part of this whole shtick. Even if it means getting poked and prodded at the dentist. 
Bianca is a writer and strategist from Chicago. She helps run a digital community called Distant, spends too much time cuddling her two cats Pearl & Norman, and refuses to acknowledge that pasta sauce can also be called gravy. You can find more of her work at and you can find her on Instagram at @biancapsmith and


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Twenty-something is a newsletter about being twenty-something. Or thirty-something. Or forty-something (you get the idea). Every week, we pose a question about the most important things impacting young adults today or the questions we can't stop thinking about while we mindlessly scrolling on our phones, taking our Screen Time to new limits.

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