I Grind My Teeth, and Other Stories Written by My Broken Back

Gertrude Highland

I wear a nightguard to protect my teeth and fend off my husband’s advances.


(That latter part is in no way true. I just feel like it’s a figurative condom between him and me. I wouldn’t want to kiss myself with that Petrie dish in my mouth.)

Anyway. Bruxism. It sounds intense, that harsh X drawing out concern and trepidation from any audience. But really, I just grind my teeth.

A lot.

Theoretically, I should wear a nightguard all the time. A dayguard. An afternoonguard. A morningguard. I grit and grind literally all the time.

This is because I’m in pain at every moment. My body hurts, and that stress makes itself known somewhere. I must react, even in some small way. After years of practice, I’ve narrowed that reaction down to my jaw. When my body flares, my jaw tightens. I can hear the gravelly sound inside my head and feel it in my bones.

I haven’t broken a tooth yet but it’s a likely possibility.

This guy’s Reddit post is now my personal mantra. Also? Unclench your ass. The butt holds tension. Source.

Bruxism wouldn’t be an issue if I weren’t in pain. This got me wondering about all those secondary health conditions I’ve acquired just by treating my primary condition: bodywide pain caused by irreversible injuries.

Here’s just a few:

Constant tension headaches resulting from cervical damage

Tingling and numbness in my hands and feet caused by primary nerve damage

Pain in my pectoral muscles and shoulders from the change in my cervical positioning after two spinal fusions

Constant fatigue

Situational depression and anxiety

Hernias and ulcers resulting from cyclical vomiting, caused by intense pain

Doctors must weigh both the good and the bad with every treatment. Even if there is a cure, would administering it at this stage be in the best interests of the patient? This medication will curb nausea, but it could cause dizziness and fatigue. Another medication will numb your pain, but it also has vomiting and vertigo as side-effects. Does the good outweigh the bad?

Is grinding my teeth better than being in pain? Certainly.

Should I be grinding my teeth at all? Absolutely not.

We can only slow the rate at which we decay. From the moment we’re born, we start to die and doctors can only postpone that final diagnosis. There is no panacea to cure us, only to comfort us before our inevitable demise — which is why pain management physicians only manage. They do not cure.

There’s some comfort in that thought. If I accept that I won’t ever feel 100% again, then I can accept when a new medication only muffles pain or when a new device only distracts me. It will only ever help.

If you crumple a piece of paper, it can never be returned to its previous state. It will never — can never — again be a flat piece of paper.

Exhibit A. Source.

But you can do your best to work with what you have.

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