Lessons From The Dentist Chair: 3 Tips For Letting Go Of Your Eating Disorder

The dentist warned me that there would be a little “pinch” before the needle penetrated deeper. This would be a numbing the last three roots that needed to be removed. A lone surviving tooth, number 19, hung on for dear life in spite of the many years of not giving it enough of the nutrients it needed to survive.

Parts of it had broken off months ago, but I clung to the idea of keeping it. It was like a crumbling foundation after a bomb goes off. But at least the remnants reminded me of who I was once- and perhaps with rebuilding, could hope to be again.

The dentist continued to shine the light bright in my face as the assistant gave me a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses.

“This is just to protect you in the event things start splashing,” he said.

Dentists have become a constant in my life. After over 30 years struggling against the tide of anorexia and bulimia, I make friends with dentists quickly. They see me at least twice a week. Many different things can go wrong with an eating disorder.

For example, implants of metal replace human enamel. Missing teeth are replaced by crafted porcelain. In my case, thousands of dollars and many mouthwashes later, the last broken pieces of my tooth rested above my gum line now needed to be extracted not unlike the way an archaeologist digs for bones.

“This one wants to stay put,” my dentist said.

He got out the bigger pliers and I closed my eyes. It’s easier at these times to pretend not to know what’s happening.

I felt my tooth resist his pull even after he used smaller instruments to open the small crevasses between the jawbone.

Trying to relax, I let the tooth tell me a story as I waited for it to give way and leave behind an empty space.

Staying safe and letting go

As eating disorder survivors we all know how at times we desperately want to cling to what we know. The known is like a safety net. While it is imaginary and ultimately doesn’t protect us, it’s not uncommon to pull it up around us when we get scared.

 The eating disorder safety net anchors our feet, hands and bodies into the complex netting that over time seems even more impossible to escape from.

How many times had I turned toward or against food when I felt something I didn’t want to? How many times had I denied my body the right to it’s needs? Denying food and water that any living organism requires and shouldn’t have to question?

My tooth fighting so hard to hold on. It was there reminding me that there IS a part of me that is strong, wants to survive and knows what’s best for me. Even though now, I had to give it up.


Several things came to mind about what it means to let go of my eating disorder came to mind going through this difficult procedure:

1. I needed to stop trying to control recovery

An eating disorder is all about control. Controlling when we change, what we eat, what we do with our bodies, how we eat, exercise and more. But did you ever know that we can translate all of that to the recovery process too?

Lying in the dentist chair made me realize I can’t control what my body needs to do as it is recovering. There will be unexpected “surprises”, both good and bad. When I relaxed with this idea, it allowed me to be more present with myself, my current imperfect life and the things I needed to now do to take care of myself.

2. Let decisions make themselves

Similar to the first idea, giving myself options and sitting with them as opposed to forcing myself to “choose” one gives me room to breathe. It’s like going to a restaurant, looking at the menu and knowing anything is possible.

You have a multitude of options. Yet, you can let go and let the choice happen naturally. It’s allowing your own instincts and truth choose for you as opposed to some arbitrary rule or direction you have built in your head.

3. Embrace the possibility

Notice the sudden ocean of possibility that comes with predictable chaos. It loosens the grip of the known and gives you a rhythm you may have never had without loosening the grip.

It can be the difference between exercising extreme control and letting things be open. It can either be bliss or agony depending on what you allow.

Back to the dentist story…

As these thoughts came and went through my head, my roots were finally giving way.

“Almost there,” he said.

I continued to remind myself that the space left behind would mean no more opportunity for infection. There would no more pain, no more trips to the dentist for more antibiotics or topical anesthetic.

“Here it is!” he exclaimed.

Of course I didn’t want to see it. But I felt the space with my tongue.

That’s when I knew that I and the dentist had done our jobs. Now it is up to my body to do the rest. As I am finally learning how to take better care of it, I trust it will do exactly what it needs to. All in it’s own time.

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