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The story my teeth tell is one of anxiety

Ignoring my stress does me no favours

anxiety_web
Image Credits: Arshika Chandranath

I’m writing this, having just gotten my second gum graft in three years. For those who are blissfully unaware, a gum graft is a gross, grossly painful thing you get when your gums decide to GTFO. My gums are checking out because I grind my teeth. I grind my teeth because I’m an anxious person.

I don’t talk about anxiety a lot. Partly because I know my experiences have been nowhere near as difficult as many others’. Partly because anxiety and depression are rooted in my family tree, so my nerves have always just seemed . . . normal.

I say normal, not to suggest that anyone’s anxiety is “abnormal,” but to say that I’ve never questioned my reactions to stress because I see so many people in my family having similar reactions.

Most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins — as well as my mother and brother — deal with anxiety and/or depression in some form or another. We all have brains that pace back and forth over concerns, whether that worry’s warranted or not. At family reunions, we pull out examples of our obsessive natures, comparing and marvelling at how similar we are.

 

It’s been embedded in me from a young age. I remember spending sleepless nights as a child, planning out my escape plan if my home should suddenly burst into flames. My parents eventually bought me a fire escape ladder to calm those nerves. I feel stressed when I’m running late, when I make mistakes, and in a plethora of social situations. Even if there’s genuinely nothing to worry about, I will find something to worry about.

I express my worry physically, picking at my cuticles until they’re pink and raw and sore. That gum graft I just got? Another stress expression. My teeth have only been saved from my grinding by the grace of my night mouth guard. I got my first gum graft when I was 19 years old — something my dentist said was not exactly normal.

I keep ignoring those pangs of anxiety, even though I know it won’t do me any favours in the long run. Logically, I know that if you need help with something you should get help, but the thought of meditation or therapy is itself nerve-wracking. So instead, I brush off my propensity for worry, and get gum grafts to treat the symptom rather than the source.

These fallouts from stress will just keep happening though. If my family history is anything to go by, it’s not something that just disappears. There’s only so much real estate in my mouth that can conceivably require gum grafts; but there are plenty of other physical, mental, and emotional ways that stress and anxiety can take a toll.

My mom went on long-term disability from work as a result of her anxiety and depression. That served as a wake-up call — one that I have not heeded, but should.

If you need help, you deserve help. It’s not an easy or comfortable prospect, but the people I’ve spoken with have found help that works for them through trial and error. I’m a hypocrite, because I still haven’t done more than download an app for stress. I’m slow to recognize that I can’t keep ignoring my nerves; but recognition is the first step, and it’s one worth taking.

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