A simple question. 11 years ago (at least), it was a passing question from a dental assistant before the father of a long-time acquaintance and my dentist poked around in my mouth. I had never thought about it before. Never once had I wrenched my jaw open after a night’s sleep and rubbed my bulging jaw muscle. Never once had I noticed the fluffy pain resonating around my teeth like a pillow well into the late-morning.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Of course I was wrong. My mother grinds her teeth. My sister does, although both mostly show whilst enraged – it conveys exactly how their stress shows itself, manifesting in a crunching not unlike that of tectonic plates, mountains falling into valleys and the hills smoothing themselves out with time. How did I not know I was along for the ride? I’d been taking psychostimulants since the middle of third grade; slow release, low dose – I’d had it all. When coming down from a long day of Ritalin you move from one being to another. While on it, you are this other person, so when I was asked if I had ground my teeth – I didn’t know it wasn’t ever a focus of mine. As soon as the pretty smock-clad woman left the room, it all came flooding in. I’d been grinding my teeth for so long I didn’t know it was irregular – all the while brooding over it, I caught myself milling my enamel.
And so began my internal fight on was or wasn’t I grinding my teeth. As I aged it came and went. My stress displayed itself in other ways: throwing up, stomach pains, obsessive tongue-to-tooth rubbing, and the like. But now it’s back. In a time when I have to show restraint, where I have to go from happy and sad just as fast as my almost-toddler son, it’s back. After naps, my molars are locking, my teeth feel as though they are being pushed into their Silly Puddy-feeling gum-bed. I’d never had a dentist comment after, but – strangely – I’ve wanted them to, to confirm my insanity. I want them to notice the smooth topped molars my ever-searching tongue does. During my waking hours I try to keep my jar apart – in fear of unknowingly grinding away and for relief of last-nights clinch-fest or the inevitable bear-trap wrenching when my son climbs on his toy chest one more damn time.
I still come back to that question.
Where I’m laid back in the dense pleather foam chair, floating three feet from the floor with a woman’s hands in my mouth asking me if I grind my teeth. I think of that break. That ever-lasting dead air between her question and my stuttered answer: did I?
This is the first of a series of reflections where I pick up a piece of my brain and follow the string back to where either I or someone else effects either I or someone else.