Thursday, October 01, 2015

Confessions of a Tooth Grinder

The pain started about 10 years ago. That's the part I'm most ashamed of. I'd bite down in just the right way, and a quick jolt centralized on my right back molar would shoot through my jaw. Usually it would fade just as quickly, but at times it would linger. I told myself to make an appointment with the dentist.

For too long, the pain served as a reminder that I hadn't yet made any type of phone call to get it checked out. Over time, the duration would expand: a second would turn into a few, a few would turn into 30. And every time I said, "Maybe this is the one that finally convinces me. I need to call. I need to have it looked at."

Then the middle of last year, I would be jarred awake in the middle of the night. What used to be a momentary discomfort had turned into something that burned the entire side of my face, part of my neck, my inner ear, and my head. I had ignored something long enough for it to become serious. It was time to call.

I am a notorious grinder. I used to grind my teeth when I was awake, but I've been able to break that habit. However, I still grind at night. Coffeewife has told me numerous times that she hears it when I'm asleep. When I finally visited the dentist last year, he discovered that I'd ground so hard that I'd split my molar right down the middle. It had to be removed and replaced with an implant and crown. An over-the-counter bite guard would help prevent any further damage.

I'm on my fourth such bite guard. I've chewed through the last three. Granted, the store-bought ones aren't meant to be a long-term solution. But they're at least supposed to help protect my other teeth from my subconscious anxiety.

Last month I discovered that I'd cracked the molar opposite the one that had to be removed. Not nearly as bad, thank goodness. And now that I'm on a regular schedule of check-ups it was caught much sooner so it could be fixed without being pulled.

Now, I could tell you that I don't feel that anxious during the day. Sure, I'm busy enough: I have a family to support and help chaperone, I have a daily pastor's schedule to keep track of, I'm maintaining a modest spiritual direction clientele, and I have writing deadlines to meet. I have all kinds of relationships and obligations and finances to keep track of, often demanding my attention at the same time. Would that I could address them in the same manner that they make their wishes known.

I'm much more anxious than I think I am.

People cope with their stressors in their own ways. Some eat, or drink, or smoke, or paint, or go to dark corners of the internet, or make music, or a million other things that are more or less healthy. One of my less healthy habits, beyond my control, is to grind my teeth. And as I've seen, such a thing left unaddressed can be destructive.

I wonder how aware we really are about the downsides of our chosen coping methods. Do we see how we might indulge in certain pleasures too obsessively? Do we have much of a grasp on how our ways of escaping are causing us to avoid truths we need to face? Do we often pay attention to the ways ignoring something will eventually do us or others more harm than good? It's good to manage anxiety through expending energy in other ways, but what if that diverted energy is given to something that will only add to the weight we carry?

I'm consulting with my dentist for a bite guard. A permanent one. A real one. I have to manage the way I manage, or things will only get worse.