What a Toothache Can Teach Us About Fitness

People avoid the dentist for the same reasons they avoid the gym, with similar consequences.

Two weeks ago I was having terrible tooth pain. I knew something was wrong, and even though I hate the dentist I made an appointment. I had periodically had some discomfort in the tooth, but it had never been too bad. This time was different.

Given the pain, it was no surprise I had a bad infection in my tooth and it had to come out. Before that could happen, however, I had to go on a fifteen-day course of antibiotics and painkillers to keep me sane and somewhat functional until the extraction could happen.

The Excuses and the Truth

I rarely, if ever, go to the dentist, for two reasons:

  1. I mentioned I hate the dentist, and I really do. I’m not sure why my anxiety started, but I know that ever since I was a kid I was scared of the dentist. I’m told it’s relatively common.
  2. On top of that I, like many, don’t have a health plan that covers the cost of dental care. I brush my teeth and I floss (admittedly not every day) because I know just how important oral health is. But shelling out big bucks to go get a cleaning when I can do it on my own? Forget about it.

Of course, as I write this, I know that is a total cop out. I don’t not go to the dentist because of the cost. I mean, I get my hair done every two months, drink Starbucks every day, and enjoy dinners out with friends. If I wanted to go pay for the dentist, I could. And let’s be honest – what’s more important?

The truth is, I don’t go to the dentist because I don’t like it. It is uncomfortable. But had I regularly gone to the dentist, I would bet this terrible tooth pain I’ve experienced for the last two weeks and the extraction I’m heading to in about three hours could have been entirely avoided.

Avoiding a little cost and discomfort now results in a lot of both, later.

Totaling the Cost

So, let’s take a quick look at what this tooth infection cost me:

  • Three full days away from my physical therapy clinic and my clients there
  • Income lost due to inability to work
  • Another 30-40 hours of productive hours lost (where I wasn’t able to read blogs or articles, write, send emails, research, brainstorm with my team)
  • Significantly decreased frequency and quality of sleep
  • Poor nutrition (my days consisted mostly of soup and a protein shake)
  • Inability to train
  • Significantly increased stress
  • Inability to take my dog for her regular length walks
  • Having to decline a number of social invites and activities
  • Numerous trips to the pharmacy and dentist office
  • The financial cost of the antibiotics, painkillers, and dental work

Looking at that list of what this tooth has cost me makes me so mad and upset. Not at the dentist, but at myself. I probably could have prevented all of this if I stopped letting my discomfort dictate what I did for my health.

How My Tooth Relates to Your Health

Where am I going with all this? My experience got me thinking about your health. It made me think about the health of my clients and all of the people I want to help.

Those of us in the fitness and health field can become so ingrained in our work that it seems absolutely ludicrous that anyone wouldn’t work out. We can’t understand why people neglect their health, or why they sit all day and night and don’t care what it is doing to their body. I often find myself exasperated with clients who could have prevented a major injury had they trained and visited me only a few times. Or with clients who are in pain but who aren’t willing to spend the money on physical therapy, even though it would make them feel so much better and prevent the situation from getting worse.

What I realized is that most people feel about fitness and health how I feel about the dentist. Having to train regularly is not comfortable for many people. They don’t know what to do, and seeking help can be scary. They have to step outside of their comfort zone and be vulnerable. This is also true of eating well. It is not always comfortable, and you have to take time out of your day to do it. It isn’t time or money. It’s trying to avoid discomfort.

What Are Your Mental Blocks Costing You?

I want you to make a list of what it would cost you if you were down and out for two weeks, for one month, or for longer. Then ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to prevent this list from becoming reality? Do you go to the physiotherapist to check in on your movement health, as you would go to the dentist to check on your oral health? Do you train regularly and maintain an active lifestyle? Some of these things might make you uncomfortable, but the discomfort is far preferable to what will happen if you don’t take care of yourself.

I’m confident I could have avoided this tooth extraction had I not let my fear of the dentist dictate how often I went for check-ups. Don’t let your fear of discomfort, of having to work, or of having to be vulnerable dictate your health. Don’t let yourself wind up regretting not doing something about your health. Take the steps now to avoid seeing your list realized in the future.

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