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

11 Responses to Self-Soothing Post-traumatic Stress

  1. I really appreciate the insight of the statement that skilled medical professionals, as well trained and well-meaning as they may be, don’t understand the reality of the experience that you describe so vividly here. So true. This piece is an excellent reflection on the power and necessity of self-soothing.

    • Thank you so much! I hoped that the piece wouldn’t simply come off as a gripe and you confirmed that it didn’t. Self-soothing is so key to many of our ‘problems.’ If we listen to ourselves deeply and decide what we really need, we can deliver ourselves from hell, if you will. Many times, we can provide our own therapy or medicine.

  2. Wendy, this is an amazing writing.
    i too have been blamed about things about my gums and teeth
    i also have crowns on almost ALL my teeth..
    i am so greatfeul i have a kind hygienst.

    i think and wish dentists and hygenists could read this.
    thanks for loving yourself and sharing this. I appreciate it.

  3. I’m so glad that it meant something to you, Ellen. I too wish that a lot of dentists, etc. would read it, but I wonder if it would make a difference. Even if it touched one, it would be worth it. Thanks for sharing that about your gums and teeth. I don’t feel so alone though I wish you didn’t have to cope with that. Let’s keep loving ourselves, OK?

  4. Gosh, Wendy, I just had another molar pulled from the lower left side. Turns out that molar was cracked and infection was destroying bone tissue around the roots. My periodontist errs on the “nice” side and didn’t scold me at all. Perhaps he’s found it pays off because now he’s urging me to get implants for that molar and another that was pulled years ago. No one mentioned “broxing,” perhaps to avoid scolding, but I’ve noticed lately that I grind my teeth constantly. And I’ve been working on my own infant surgery without anesthesia (circumcision). Gee, I learn so much here that I never hear about in other places. Thank you, Wendy! In case you find “nicer” dentists, watch out for your pocket book!

    • So good to hear from you. Ironic, cuz I was just thinking a day or two ago, Gee, I wonder how Robert is doing. I’m so glad that my post has rung some bells with you, as they say. And you give me encouragement to keep going (blogging). You know, there are some funny parallels with broxing and all infant surgeries. The dental profession doesn’t ask, Why does she brox? The medical profession doesn’t seems to care about, Why do so many babies get pyloric stenosis? What’s the root cause? And with regard to circumcision, Why do we circumcise baby boys? What is the real reason and should we continue to do so? btw, you might be interested in another post that I wrote “Oral History – Untreated PTSD.” Search for it in my blog search box if you are interested. It’s from 9/22/13. Wow, Robert, no major infection destroying my bone yet, but I’ll watch out for those nice guys/gals. Warm wishes to you. Take good care of yourself.

  5. Wendy, I really like that term, “self soothing” and know exactly what you mean: you describe it to a “T”. Thank you. I imagine many people need to recognize when they need to “self-soothe”, not to seek pity but to rise above the widespread ignorance and/or lack of understanding of the pain others carry. We who have suffered infant surgery without anesthesia and all that came and continues to come with it certainly need to allow ourselves a fat prescription pad for that therapy!
    One of the wonderful results of your blog (and others’) is that so many people like Robert tell us that they are learning so much just from sites like ReStory passing on bits of your journey and the discoveries you’ve made en-route. Keep taking us with you.

  6. Here’s to FAT prescription pads! Isn’t it great though that we can self-prescribe? We can tell ourselves what we need to hear. This message is not in the form of a pill, but it’s self-talk that in every way affects our body’s chemistry–those molecules that soothe not stress. Pity is off the table; compassion and understanding is on. In fact, I’m ready for a banquet! Let’s eat!

    As always, your support is part of my successful prescription and recovery.

    • A fat prescription pad is one we can take with us anywhere and feel completely free to use as often and generously as needed. Perhaps that’s an old model? My GP puts a single sheet of paper into his printer, taps a few keys, and voila! a prescription tailor-made for me! But of negligible use for the “self soothing” Wendy has in mind.

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