5 Ways Personal Development is like Going to the Dentist

“Faced with the choice of enduring a bad toothache or going to the dentist, we generally tried to ride out the bad tooth.” ~Joseph Barbera

I was recently sitting in the dentist’s chair thinking about my mouth. I don’t usually spend much time doing that, but that day was different.

The mouth-awareness mood was set by the dental assistant who was sucking spit, excess filling material and my lungs from the back of my throat with the aspirator.

And it suddenly dawned on me that personal development is really a lot like going to the dentist.

Sounds strange, perhaps, but not so much as you might think.

Here are 5 examples of what I mean. At the end, let me know what you think.

1. We wait to keep waiting

We hurry to get to our scheduled dental appointments on time, then have to wait in waiting rooms for our turn to wait in dental chairs for the dentist to get around to poking us with very sharp instruments.

We would do well to approach personal development with the same attitude—a willingness to wait for the process to work out the desired results as we stumble and fall and get back up again, learning and growing as we go, usually an inch or less at a time.

Our personal development results may not be measured in minutes, or even days, but in weeks or months or years. So bring a good book, put your feet up and enjoy the process.

2. There’s lots of poking around between teeth

I’ve gone to the dentist for a simple cleaning, let the dentist poke around in my mouth for a while, then walked out 2 hours later with two cavities filled, a root canal, a follow-up appointment for more work, and a bill that weighed more than me!

But that’s often what poking around does. As with teeth and mouths, so with psyches and character. The more we look, the more emotional plaque and decay we find in our lives.

But don’t be alarmed by what you discover for all the poking. Just be glad you have lots of opportunities for personal growth. Just like a dentist finding a cavity you didn’t know you had, when we discover emotional or character issues we didn’t know about the day before, we empower ourselves to correct them before they get stuck deep in the root and tissue of our lives.

3. Relief comes after the pain

When we go to the dentist with a throbbing ache in our sweet tooth, the dentist is quick to make us very uncomfortable. It often hurts as she pinches and pushes, pokes, picks and prods.

But when she’s done, it always feels better (at least once the swelling goes down). Those who stay away for fear of the poking and prodding eventually make an appointment with much bigger dental problems.

Good hygiene comes at the other side of regular dental pinches. Good character also comes at the far end of pokes at our moral fiber. And happiness after the sting of emotionally difficult trials, just as good health follows the ache of exhaustion, sore muscles and the “pain” of self-discipline.

4. Sometimes root canals and extraction are needed

Isn’t it strange how we can experience pain without always recognizing its cause? All we know is that it hurts. Just as a dentist often finds the problem below the gum line in a tooth that has been rotting from the inside out, infecting the very roots of our teeth, we can also have problems festering below the surface of our pasts, infecting the roots and bone matter of our lives.

Sometimes the rot is in the form of boiling hatred or knee-jerk judgments or attitudinal tumors or mental plaque or character decay.

At other times, we need to extract a friendship or a habit or some behavior from our lives that undermines our dreams or values. Such extractions require the insight to recognize the needed change, the courage to act and determination to follow through.

5. Fluoride Treatments are better than root canals

Just as fluoride treatments are preventive, meant to strengthen teeth against future cavities, so daily prayer and meditation, daily acts of kindness and service and reading regularly from scripture and other works of wisdom and inspiration are preventive measures against the emotional and spiritual viruses that plague too many unhappy lives.

But just as it’s easy to employ preventive measures like dental floss and mouth wash and fluoride treatments, it’s also easy not to.

When we fail to act preemptively to guard against moral and emotional viruses, we open ourselves to their malignant influence and, in the end, to more drastic corrective measure later.


No one I know likes going to the dentist. We dread the prospect, so some of us wait too long between appointments or just don’t go at all. But we usually pay a steep price.

The result of this failure can be receding gum lines, bad breath, discolored teeth, few friends, and all kinds of dental problems with hard-to-pronounce names and hard-to-pay bills.

The difference between those who make regular visits and those who don’t is the difference between those who have very few aching teeth or root canals or other dental problems and those who spend too much of their time and means sitting in dental chairs waiting for dentists to do very expensive things in their mouths.

So as we look into the mirror of our own lives and poke around in our open souls, resist the urge to run at the first sign of blood and keep poking around at the raw parts.

Then do to your life what dentists do to your teeth. Fix what needs fixing. Correct what needs correcting. Then offer yourself some very sound advice to keep flossing between teeth.

In the end, you’ll be the happier for it.

Your Turn!

  • Convinced? Is personal development something similar to going to the dentist?
  • What other ways is it similar?
  • Or what else is it more like?
  • Let us know what resonated with you in the comments below!

And please Share this post on Facebook and Tweet it or otherwise get the word out if you liked what I had to say.