Dentist’s chair, twelve years old, East Orange, New Jersey: Dr. Salada calls my mother into the room to see the caverns I’ve bitten out of the walls of my mouth. He peels my lower lip down to show her the gouges. I, too am shocked when he holds the mirror up so I can see. I feel the canyons with my tongue to confirm how deep they are. I recall sitting in class, biting and chewing. I had no idea though what I’d actually done to myself. Treatment or recommendation? None.
Ten years later, dentist’s chair of a tempero-mandibular (jaw) joint specialist, Central Park West, New York City: My chin is strapped to the back of the seat with a strong, thick band of elastic and my molars are being ground down by the dentist to make a better bite. In the 1970s, he is one of the foremost TMJ specialists in the world, and he gives me Valium, which he prescribes that I take four time a day and PRN (when needed), since it’s “just like aspirin,” to relieve the pain. He has also fits me with a bite plate that I wear to prevent myself from damaging my teeth as I grind all day and night. According to the dentist, this grinding has caused my jaw pain–the reason I came in the first place. Treatment for alleviating the broxing itself: none.
15 years later, dentist’s chair, Berkeley, California: The dental hygienist berates me for cracking the fillings in my molars due to excessive broxing or grinding. She calls in the dentist, who similarly blames me. He warns that if I keep this up, I will have to have all my molars capped. Treatment for broxing: night guard.
1o years later, dental chair, Lafayette, California: The dentist jokes that my broxing is making her business lucrative what with all the crowns I am needing. Underneath her humor is blame. She hints that this behavior is controllable and that I should not allow myself to do it. The taunting stops when I tell her that my grinding is a result of infant surgery, something that I do unconsciously, and that I recently uncovered the root of the problem through writing autobiography. By the time I change dentists, all my molars are either crowned or pulled and replaced with a bridge. Treatment for broxing: night guard
5 years later, medical library, University of California at Davis: Researching infant surgery as I write my memoir, The Autobiography of a Sea Creature, I realize that grinding my teeth is a response to the excruciating pain I felt, having been operated on without anesthesia. I have learned that lack of anesthesia was typical protocol for surgery on infants during the 1950s. I was probably given a muscle relaxer to keep me still and captive. Treatment for broxing: Middendorf Breath Work, a somatic therapy.
5 years later, in my home outside Sacramento: I am reading Peter Levine’s book Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma: I realize that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD from the early surgery and that I’ve had this all my life. I was waking up every morning gritting my teeth, frozen in an old response to infant medical trauma. Treatment for broxing: visualization before sleep and affirmation upon waking.
Now, in my same home in a suburb of Sacramento, sitting before my computer: I am wondering why dentists and doctors often treat only the symptoms of a problem when the body is crying out for resolution at the root? Treatment: educate the medical profession and the public.