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Self-Soothing Post-traumatic Stress

Yesterday I had my teeth cleaned, usually a tense and painful affair. This time though it was better. How write about this subject without going into the entire huge history of the issues I’ve had with my gums and teeth?  Suffice it to say that I’ve broxed or grit my teeth so badly over a lifetime that all my molars cracked. The broxing weakened my gums, too so gum disease has been an issue.

In 1975, a TMJ (tempero-mandibular joint) dentist treated my jaw pain. His treatment included a prescription for  Valium. He told me to take it four times a day and then whenever I needed it because it was like aspirin.  After using it for six months and stopping it at a friend’s request, I had a severe withdrawal reaction. That drug was addictive! And that dentist didn’t even know.

Here’s the thing. When one has had infant surgery without anesthesia or pain control, one may, as a consequence, brox or grit one’s teeth. That’s what humans do when in pain–they grit, they clench, they bite down hard!  It’s a symptom of post-traumatic stress. Most mornings, I wake up clenching; I even grit down during the day. 

Why was I clenching my teeth in the first place? No health professional has EVER asked about this! I’ve been blamed by dentists and hygienists all my life for ruining my gums and molars. So yesterday, when I heard the dentist gripe about the fact that I have so many caps and the hygienist complain about my refusal to have another planing, a cutting and cleaning of the gums, I went inside and pictured myself holding that little baby that I was. I held her, rocked her, soothed her, and told her that she was safe and we’d be ok. I pressed her to my chest and we took care of each other.

While the hygienist scraped and pulsed waves of ultrasound and, at one point, urged me to get more frequent cleanings (that insurance won’t pay for) because I should not be considered a ‘regular’ cleaning, I held baby me to my chest and told her that I completely understood why she grit her teeth. I understood that the pain from surgery without anesthesia was unbearable and that it was amazing she survived.

My dentist and hygienist are good people and skilled medical professionals, but they are part of a system that does not understand my situation, and the reality of many others, even if it is explained to them. What matters most though is that I understand. And I am super proud of myself for my composure and self-care yesterday. The more I integrate the experience of the infant surgery, the more I can manage my anxiety, and the less that PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, controls my life