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Is •This• Typical Dutch?

July 8, 2013

After living abroad for six years, visiting my dentist only when passing through Columbus, which was seldom, I began feeling guilty, neglectful of the massive investment which is my dentition.  Also, there was a creeping fear of unknown trouble lurking along the gum line:  I am scared witless of dental work.  I am also extremely wary of Italian medical practices, and not for no reason.  Enough fellow ex-pats have had the pleasure and the night-terrors to show for it.

Then I met Dr. L at a party of mutual friends.  He was dancing, alone in an empty room, evidently lost in the music.  I like that.  He is Dutch, trained in Amsterdam.  He was as good a prospect as one is likely to find here.  So I made an appointment for a much-belated annual cleaning and inspection.

The doctor peered in, did a quick poke around, and declared that he would be making no money from me.  “They’re fine.”   Wait, what?  I was puzzled, relieved, and a little let down.  From an early age, my people visit the hygienist for a cleaning and review by the dentist every six months; once a year includes x-rays to catch those sneaky caries below the gum-line and possible other hidden badness.

But this tooth has been sensitive, back here, see?  “Hmm, yes, there is a bit of recession.  You’re brushing too hard.  Keep it slow and gentle and you’ll do a better job cleaning without abusing the gum.”

And that was it.  It seemed awfully short-sighted to declare the man my new favorite dentist simply because he found no cause to hurt me.  So, when I was next in Columbus, I did visit the family dentist.  The hygienist confirmed that there really was no work for her to do there.  The x-rays all looked good.  I’d forgotten to bring my night guard, which I’ve worn for ages to protect the molars from bruxation and the TMJ from subsequent pain.  She said as long as it’s still seating firmly, it’s fine.  Great!  I went away a confident camper.

Last week the guard took a sudden turn for the loosening, then revealed a fatal crack.  I’d been wearing it well past the stage of dire warning in the literature.  I really didn’t think it would pop clean off and choke me in my sleep.  The fear of cracking any of the eight molar crowns back there ~and thus requiring emergency dental work by an unvetted Italian dentist!~ or even the memory of the muscle pain all those years ago was enough to keep me playing fast and loose as long as possible.  It was no longer possible.  The guard would not seat at all.

I called Dr. L.  An appointment opened up for me that afternoon because the specialist with whom he and a patient were to meet had retired and forgotten about it.  I showed him my sad little guard, stained, abraded, and cracking.  He said, “What is that?!”  It’s my night guard, designed to eliminate the bruxism by stopping engagement of the jaw muscles.  The man looked truly scandalized.  “Madame, it is a medical miracle that you have not done yourself serious harm with that.  How long have you been wearing it?  I must take a photo for my colleagues.  May I?”  Again, I was puzzled, vaguely affronted, and relieved.  He went on to explain decades of research done in the Netherlands, some bio-mechanics which I’d always suspected but never questioned the professionals over, and reiterated how fortunate I was.  It might also be a sign that I no longer need it that no damage had been done.

We talked about life when the guard was first prescribed, the symptoms then, how things have changed for me since, certain stressors no longer … present.  He talked about runner’s high, muscle exertion, and how clenching produces similar chemicals for coping.  So, we’re not going to make me a new one?  A fog of panic began to blur my vision and constrict my throat.  I’ve always worn a night guard. Every. Night.  It’s something I do.  “No.  I don’t think you need it.”  Soooo, what are we going to do?  “As little as possible.”

He explained how we, all of us, to one degree or another clench all the time, day and night.  Break the habit for the greater portion and the lesser will follow.  Even I am awake more than asleep.  When I couldn’t let my jaw drop and hang lax, even on command, it only confirmed his premise.  A little tightly wound? What, me?  For one month, I am to consciously relax those muscles.   If you see me when I don’t see you, please don’t notice the slack-jawed, mouth-breather look.  I’m healing.

PS: Living abroad not only lets us know individuals with very different backgrounds from our own, but to experience aspects of culture seldom available to ~or inflicted upon~ the traveler.  Maybe we don’t know everything.  Perhaps bigger, better, faster, more sometimes fails.  I’m glad to be exposed to others’ ways of doing things, yet be able to pick and choose amongst them and what I find from home.  The family dentist did give me strong fluoride paste for the sensitive teeth, which I am using and feel is helping.  Dutch dentist would not approve.

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