About two years ago one of my molars was giving me trouble. When I went to the dentist, he diagnosed a small cavity, though he couldn’t really see one, and inserted a filling in the offending tooth. Despite his efforts, it still felt like the tooth was going to break every time I bit down on it. I waited a few uncomfortable months until we could change our insurance plan and go to a new dentist whom we had just met at church. Within fifteen seconds of my sitting down in his chair and with the help of his way cool, micro-camera that blows those little round dental mirrors on sticks away, Dr. Erik diagnosed a crack. Yep, a crack. “What on earth could cause my tooth to crack?” I wondered. I wasn’t eating Jolly Ranchers (ask Tom about them), chewing ice on a regular basis, or interested in getting into the Guinness Book of World Records by pulling locomotives with my teeth.
Together we pieced together the puzzle. In the depths of slumber, I was releasing all the stress of my home-schooling days and book-writing nights by clenching my teeth. I knew sometimes my jaw hurt when I woke up, but never imagined I was biting down with such force that I could crack a tooth. The remedy was a crown, excellently executed by my most wonderful new dentist, and something called an occlusal guard, a beastly hard, plastic device that fit over my top teeth and absorbed the force of my clenching. Unfortunately my tenure with the guard was short-lived. I received it in a liquid-filled plastic bag and was instructed to keep it hydrated at all times. If I didn’t it would wither like a Shrinky Dink or my old retainer that Tom cooked one Christmas with a batch of crescent rolls—don’t even ask. This was simple to do while it was in my mouth by night, but nearly impossible to achieve by day. I tried using a retainer case flipped upside down, but it leaked and sometimes mildew would grow on the device. Yuck! I substituted Listerine for water in an effort to stave off the mold, but this only left me with a blue puddle on the counter instead of a clear one. I began to slack on wearing the thing, convincing myself that I was over the clenching. The book I was writing was done, the kids had gone back to school for a year, and life was simpler. Soon the occlusal guard was half its original size and any possibility of wearing it again evaporated. (Erik…if you’re reading this, sorry.)
This spring I got another crack-induced crown and last night I think I clenched harder than I ever have before. Delusions of unbooked campervan reservations, yet-to-be-purchased travel underwear for the little kids, and forgetting some critical gadget or document at home danced through my mind. We leave in 11 days and there are still about 487 things left for us to do before we board that first plane. Clench.
All of this got me thinking, why not put my stress to good use. People run, walk, swim, and jump rope to raise money for worthy causes, why shouldn’t I stage a “Grind Your Teeth for World Peace” campaign? I and people like me could solicit pledges for each hour of clenching and before you know it, we might have enough to fund a global, grass-roots peace initiative. Just an idea…
I don’t have any pictures of the occlusal guard or my teeth, but here’s a picture of a parrot (who is still alive at the Hogle Zoo).