My new dental hygienist asked, “Do you wear a mouth guard at night?” “Well, no…why?” I questioned. (Her inquiry seemed a bit odd. Did I have bits of rubber or plastic between my teeth?)
“I think you’re a grinder, or maybe a clencher,” she continued. “Let’s take a look at your canine teeth…no they look fine…I’d say you’re a clencher.”
Never in my life have I imagined myself a grinder or a clencher. In fact, I don’t think I’ve used those two words together in a sentence, ever.
Due to CoVid-19, my previous hygienist of 25 plus years had retired. I wanted to send her a thank-you note, for all of her emotional support. I used to be a shipwreck in the dentist chair for no particular reason.
Because of her, I no longer broke into a cold sweat worrying about annual appointments. Between her yearly compliments on how well my teeth looked and deep breathing, yoga style, I became a pretty good, calm patient. She changed my perspective on dental care. I figured the note could be forwarded to her from the business office.
When the dentist came in to inspect my current hygienist’s findings, he said, “I think we have some areas of concern. Do you floss?”
“Haven’t you noticed the sharp edges of this tooth? Can you see where part of the filling has fallen out?” he asked while pointing to the photograph of my tooth, that looked nothing like a tooth. (Seriously, it could have been an ultrasound of a fetus.) “Well, no”, I replied cautiously.
Am I unobservant, in denial, or just plain stupid, I asked myself.
It turned out that two 55 year old fillings had hit their expiration dates. I needed two crowns. “Do not start crying,” I said to myself.
At the end of my appointment, it was all I could do, not to write on the newly addressed thank-you note envelope, “Please come back!”
Two days later, while flossing with diligence, the last remaining part of one of the tired, old fillings flew out of my mouth. “I’m not looking for it, the maid will get it,” I said to myself. “The maid” refers to whomever picks up the vacuum cleaner first, in our house. We can safely assume a piece of metal is still around.
It turns out I am a clencher. I know because I’ve been paying attention.
I notice when I wake up in the morning, my mouth is comfortably clamped shut. It feels perfectly natural.
My new oral practice is to relax my jaw, but it’s not always easy.
During the night, when I roll over for the 19th time, I ask if I’m clenching. Yeah, but it’s an easy fix. I think about softening the position of my teeth, bore myself stiff, and fall back to sleep (ideally with closed lips so nothing flies in) but also with my jaw slightly agape. I imagine.
During conscious hours, I begin to notice the sensation of clenching during some conversations.
How do you relax clenched teeth when someone says something that makes you want to grind in agony? This is going to take some practice.
Often, in yoga classes, we are invited to let go of things that no longer serve us, things that make us grind and clench. It may be our teeth, our fists, our minds, or our hearts.
When we become aware of physical reactions and sensations, and investigate what may be causing them, we can change things we may not have been aware of in the first place.
Maybe we clench and grind rather than speak what’s on our minds. Maybe we are gnashing and gnawing on something that really isn’t that important. If it is important, then we need to spit it out.
Teeth get old, fillings get old, hygienists get younger.
Namaste- pay attention, make it go away.