Mindful Dental Cleaning


I’m in the dentist’s chair for my semi-annual cleaning. The sound of the dental hygienist’s tool is loud as she moves it into my mouth to start in on my teeth. As the shrieking object is applied to my teeth, a sensation similar to hearing fingernails scratching a blackboard occurs. Then the hygienist moves her tool to those teeth where the nerves are really sensitive. As the tool makes contact with a sensitive spot, I feel my body start to clench even before I feel any unpleasant sensation. A moment later, I do start to feel unpleasant sensations. Little lightning flashes of pain shoot through my mouth.

I think about crying out, or at least emitting a little whimper, to let the hygienist know that I’m experiencing discomfort. But of course it’s not like I’m being dismembered, tortured or killed. The sensations are just difficult to be with. Luckily, I finally remember to notice my breath — noticing it first in my belly to relax me, and then expanding my awareness of the breath throughout my whole body. I breathe in and feel the breath sensations spread throughout my whole body. My mind is now aware of my whole body and not just my mouth. My field of awareness has gotten much bigger. It’s easier now to let those painful sensations just do their thing, shooting and stabbing here and there, because I have the wider perspective of breathing with my whole body — and the awareness that knows it — to ground me.

The pain, when it comes, occupies a smaller space in my mind and seems far less intense. Instantly, I begin to relax. The hygienist does her thing, her tool does its thing, the pain jabs and stabs here and there, but I get more and more relaxed as I keep breathing with the whole body. By the time the cleaning is over a half hour later, I discover that I almost regret having to leave the dentist’s chair because I’m so relaxed.

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