Friday, August 31, 2007

Life with a nightguard

After a couple of false starts, I picked up my occlusal guard (nightguard) on Tuesday. It's thicker than I expected, but then perhaps that is what is needed when you can and do bite the enamel off your own teeth.

It snapped in neatly in front of the dental assistant. That night, without an audience, I struggled to get it into place, more or less—mostly less, because my entire mouth was sore Wednesday morning, plus the guard had popped out two or three times during the night.

I was more successful Wednesday night, during which the guard stayed in place. My teeth weren't as sore in the morning, which I thought was a good sign—until I noticed dried blood in three or four places on the guard and tasted blood in my mouth. Of course, I began second guessing myself, as I did about the braces. Do I really need a nightguard? Will it do my teeth more harm than good? Would I really have developed periodontal disease? Then each time I have a muscle spasm and my jaw clenches involuntarily and encounters the guard, I am reminded of how much force that muscle is capable of and what it's like to wake up with the grit of one's own enamel between one's teeth.

It's fascinating because it's involuntary. When I wake up, the first thing I notice is that my jaw is forcing my teeth together, and as I try to relax those muscles consciously the pressure becomes slightly worse before the jaw finally lets go. I imagine that someday I will have to use my hands to persuade it to loosen its grip.

I've heard a couple of different versions of what the nightguard does and how. One explanation is that the guard, worn over the lower teeth, prevents the joint from functioning fully, so the jaw simply can't clamp as hard. I think this may be true for me. Although I can close my mouth, the jaw doesn't seem to work very well. It did try this morning. I woke up and found myself attempting to break my teeth against the guard.

i have noticed one thing—that is, my jaw seems more relaxed and less likely to clench during the day. If you have never experienced an involuntarily clenching of your jaw while you're awake, conscious, and in control (mostly), I can assure you it's an odd, disconcerting, and painful sensation.

I am grateful that modern dentistry is helping me to treat this painful, damaging problem. I am not so grateful that the stress of modern living, where everything and nothing is important, is causing it.

With that said, I'm ready to try to relax this weekend, to focus on the meaningful to shrug off everything—and everyone—else.

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