Teeth Saga


I grind my teeth in my sleep. So does my brother (so loudly that when we were kids, I’d hear him in the next room) and probably our mother. She insists she doesn’t although her teeth are very sensitive and her children and younger brother all grind.

I’ve probably ground my teeth since I was a kid but a dentist didn’t notice until I was already in my 30s. Or at least a dentist who attributed the wear on my teeth to the right cause. When I lived in Boston, I was stupid enough to go to a dental school. Sure, it was the Harvard Dental School, but the guy who checked my teeth was still an idiot.

First of all, he cleaned my teeth first, then did X-rays, which meant pressing those plastic things against my gums really hurt. Then at one point he left me for a very long time with my mouth in an uncomfortable position, and finally his theory for the cause of the wear on my teeth was from my clenching my jaw when I ran or from eating crunchy snacks.


This week I went the dentist for the first time in about five years, maybe more. I don’t usually mind the dentist, but the one I went to in New York was so disorganized, they lost my last appointment, and then didn’t bother reminding me of six month or annual cleanings. Since moving to San Francisco more than three years ago, I haven’t bothered finding a new one.

The main reason I finally went was that for months (or maybe years) MB has been bugging me about my gross night guard. At least he thinks it’s gross, and okay, I guess it is. There’s some black stuff on it (which later the dentist told me is normal since night guards are hard to clean) and toothpaste stains. But it’s been several years since I’ve had the guard, and it doesn’t fit quite right anyway.

I’m so glad I went. This dentist is like none I’ve never had. First of all, they use – gasp! – technology. They emailed me the patient forms so that I could fill them out before my appointment, as well as my insurance information and, since the appointment, the estimate of my bill. Plus the hygienist used this voice-activated program to record the condition of my gums. “Two, three,” she’d say for parts in good condition. “Four” for inflamed sections (from tartar build up, ie, not getting my teeth cleaned often enough). Five and six would have meant bone loss. Luckily I had all twos, threes, and fours.

Second, the dentist took the time to talk to me about my teeth and advise me about what I should do for my grinding. Usually, the dentist flies in after the cleaning, checks my teeth for two seconds, and is gone. Maybe it’s because I have more problems now, but I appreciated this dentist’s time all the same.

He had some interesting advice. He said my night guard might be doing more damage than good. The enamel on some of my teeth has already worn away, exposing the dentine, which wears away much more easily than enamel.


So plastic rubbing against it, especially on a guard that is loose, is worse than just grinding teeth. He also said that teeth grinding is supposed to decrease as you get older, and that the only reason I am is because in my sleep I’m playing with and adjusting the loose guard so that it fits.

His advice? Not wear a guard at all for a few months and observe in the morning how my teeth feel. If I feel like my teeth are sensitive or my jaw is sore, then we’ll get me a different kind of guard, a harder one that may be uncomfortable but could do a better job.

I’ve made up a rating system. Ten is “very painful” while one is “no pain at all.” So far my past two mornings have been twos. No pain but maybe a little sensitive, but that could be from the dentist appointment itself.

It is very weird not to be wearing a night guard when I go to bed. It’s been part of my routine for so many years. It does save me time though – there’s nothing to clean – and MB is definitely glad he doesn’t have to see it anymore.


  1. Yay for good dentists. And I always appreciate a well told tale about teeth. But five years without a visit? What were you thinking? Did your mother know?