Mighty Life List
Jan 4 2011

Getting My Health in Order, Part III: Teeth

If you’re just joining us and you’re into maladies, welcome! “Get my health in order” is on my life list. Here’s Part I where I outline the obstacles, and Part II where I explain that acupuncture does more than clean your aura. Please join us for this installment of Autoimmune On Parade, wherein I outline the expensive and inconvenient things I’ve endured to obtain Vicodin.

Hey, Chopper!

I’m eating lunch as I type this, and it’s kind of a miracle I can chew. Long time readers will be familiar with my dental escapades. (If not, you’ll want to rent my critically acclaimed “Dental Escapades XXX Get drilled.”) But to be candid, these last six months are the first time I’ve chewed without pain in about 15 years.

Take your tongue and trace all the teeth in your mouth that feel like molars, even the little ones. Now. With one or two exceptions, I’ve had root canals on every one of those teeth. That’s because my body has been attacking them. Before I knew this, I just assumed other people must be maniacs about tooth care. “Thanks for lunch! I’m just going to pop in the bathroom and floss before we go.”

My dentists reinforced this idea by shaking their heads and sighing with concern whenever they peered into my mouth. Two years ago I wrote:

When I go to the dentist, which I do every few minutes, they look at me like I’ve been sleeping with hard candy in my mouth, and waking to a hearty breakfast of dried apricots dipped in marshmallow fluff.

Your Body as an Ecosystem

At my first appointment with the acupuncturist, I told her I had a tooth that had been mildly infected for years, but recently had begun to bother me more. She insisted I make an appointment to take care of it immediately. I still don’t totally know why, but acupuncturists really wig when something is going wrong with your mouth.

So I went to the dentist, where I’d been eight months before, and he sent me immediately to an oral surgeon, who scheduled me for emergency surgery the next day.

I’m embarrassed to admit how numb I was to my health, what bad care I took of myself, but here goes. Before the surgery I’d had a toothache for a few weeks (nothing unusual there), but the pressure increased until it was unbearable for a day or two, and then it mysteriously subsided. I figured it was healing. What had actually happened was the infection had broken through to my sinus cavity, thereby relieving the pressure as the infection presumably flowed toward my brain.

Yaaaaaay.

Oral Surgery A-Go-Go

So I went through about a year of bone grafting. Healing. Having a screw placed into my jaw. Healing. Having an implant placed on the screw. Healing.

But here’s the upside. Because I had several recent X-rays on file thanks to all this oral surgery, and because I was starting to realize my body was an ecosystem thanks to acupuncture, I finally figured out that the problem wasn’t my now-near-obsessive oral hygiene habits.

One night, I was flossing a perfectly healthy tooth, and when I pulled the floss out, a shard of my tooth came with it. I shuddered, whimpered, and called the dentist.

At my appointment the next day I said, “I should tell you, this. I think I have an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder. I think my body might be attacking my teeth. Please check my x-rays.” He did, and he agreed. It’s called dental resorption, and this is what I wrote about it last summer:

My teeth were just minding their own business, masticating, ripping open plastic packaging. Then my teeth glanced over at my immune system, and my immune system was all, “What are you staring at?” My teeth were like, “Nothing, man.” And BAM! My life is a Stephen King novella where I angered some mystic and now I’m paying in teeth.

The excellent team at my dentist’s office went from slightly stern and instructive, to empathetic and concerned. They’d always been great, but it was a palpable shift. I asked my hygenist about all that flossing instruction. “Did you just think I was a meth addict?” I said. She smiled.

“Well. You never know.”

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about my joints, diet, exercise, and supplements. And then my friends, we will check this mother off the list, and return to our discussions of ice cream and adventure sports. See you then.

31 Responses to “Getting My Health in Order, Part III: Teeth”

  • Natalie Says:

    I went through almost the same issue with the nagging infection in my tooth wanting to migrate to my sinuses!

    I was lucky and had a root canal (turned out my tooth was seriously deranged, 5 roots instead of 3, that sort of thing) before the infection got through the bone. But I remember being shocked that such a thing could even happen. The human body is such a strange thing…

  • @swenlin Says:

    Your quote from two years ago is hilarious.

    The walk through of letting your infection spread into your sinus cavity is awesome.

  • Manders Says:

    Auto-immune disorders are just fascinating/horrifying.

  • erin / dfm Says:

    Oh, Maggie. I feel for you, as I have quite an auto immune disorder as well. Someday we’ll swap stories. Until then, chin up and double down.

    See you in a few!

  • kate Says:

    Oh dear god. I have recurring nightmares about this exact thing. I am so sorry you’re living it. Uugghh.

  • Rob Says:

    @Natalie I believe this is the first time this particular phrase has ever been written: “I was lucky and had a root canal”

  • Meegan Says:

    Wow. I really, really hate the dentist. They prescribe Valium for me to take before I go, then they gas me up a little. This is all so I don’t mistakenly bite someone. It’s happened. I panic. So truly, what you have gone through is just…oh, I don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry? Not enough. I feel I should offer my condolences. Your tooth died such a slow and painful death. Did it receive a proper burial or did your dentist just chuck it out with the other murderous molars?

  • Gabrielle Charles Says:

    I just finished a marathon series of dental work a week after giving birth to my first child. I had to get all the work in before the end of the year. I couldn’t tell whether the receptionist were judging my dental health or my skills as a new other as my good friend tried to subdued my screaming baby. I received acupuncture through out my pregnancy and I’m pretty sure that is the reason my pregnancy was easy and my birth was fast.

  • evany Says:

    I am loving these healthy posts! SO INSPIRING! You really are doing this living thing right. Also: You are such a good writer!

  • Missives From Suburbia Says:

    Eeek!!!

  • Bonny Clark Says:

    Honest to goodness I just went and grabbed a dental floss pick and used it something ever so easy that I can use one while driving, texting AND yelling at my kids (I kid!) but I still manage to avoid doing most of the time. I have crap for teeth and put off the dentist. Even with excellent coverage (which I have not always had).

    Thanks.

  • lindsey Says:

    I’m a dentist. Thank you for the reminder to be on the lookout for systemic causes. Sometimes it’s easy to blame the patient, but you are right, often there is something more sinister at work.

  • Amy Says:

    I can’t believe what a kick I’m getting out of this litany of tears. You’re flippin’ hilarious. What a way with words…

  • Shevon Says:

    Dude, I’m sorry you had to live with that for so long! That sounds really painful.

  • r8chel Says:

    My goodness! What you described sounds terrible! (And terribly amusing.) I’m glad things seem to be looking up!

    As my dad says, “Be true to your teeth, or they will be false to you.” Ha!

  • Jennifer Says:

    LA LA LA LA LA LA LA :: fingers stuffed in ears, eyes closed tightly :: You sent me screaming from the office with the first paragraph about root canals.

    You poor, poor thing!!! Thank GOODNESS you finally got a REAL diagnosis!!! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shudder in horror a while longer…

  • Liz Says:

    Teeth. Ugh. They creep me out, and cause me no end of pain.

    I have root resorption in my front four teeth due to the massive amount of movement that had to happened when I had braces. Basically, they moved so much that my immune system decided they weren’t teeth any more, but some kind of invader, and has been attacking for 15 years. One tooth has been literally hanging on by a thread (the root was damaged early on and has been resorbed at an alarming rate) and is as wiggly as a baby tooth in a child. I have twice gone through the consultation process to get the sucker taken care of, and twice had to cancel due to uncontrollable circumstances. I will need the titanium screw (thankfully no bone grafts, as my bone has had years to regrow in the place where the root used to be), the healing, the crown, the healing, and then the ability to eat apples again.

    When I went to my new dentist (I keep moving and thus losing awesome dentists) a few months ago to kick-start the process (again), I sat in his chair and bawled my eyes out. This tooth has been a nagging monster for years, and it is the cause of much stress, nightmares, worry and occasional pain. My new dentist is awesome, and having him go through the process step-by-step was like therapy for me. Once we get some insurance mumbo-jumbo worked out, I WILL HAVE A NEW TOOTH!

    Good on you for facing your pain and fear (dentists suck, no matter how awesome they may be). The anxious anticipation is always worse than the outcome – or so I keep telling myself. :)

  • Amber Says:

    Oh, what is it about TEETH? I have only had to deal with a few crowns here and there, but that is bad enough. When I have tooth problems it seriously throws me into a bit of a funk.

    I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with all of that, but so glad you’ve been tackling the issues, kicking ass, taking names, etc.

  • michelle Says:

    ugh. after years of tooth issues, i just heard the term “dental resorption” for the first time at my check-up yesterday. thanks for sharing.

  • Lucia Says:

    It’s amazing how the health of your teeth has an impact on the rest of your body. Thanks for sharing, Maggie. You’re the best. XO.

  • Alison Says:

    Maggie,

    I have been reading your blog for months and love it. Thank you for sharing your quest to get your health in order. I too have an autoimmune disorder (and several other perhaps-related health issues), and it encourages me to see you conquering yours with such humor and finesse.

  • Kara Says:

    I am in the middle of a marathon session of oral surgeries as well (multiple bone grafts, the titanium screw, multiple tissue grafts, the works…) and it is pretty miserable.

    Before I got started with it I had no idea how many of the people that I know in daily life have undergone similar dental trials. It really does help and make me feel better to know that I am not alone here…

  • nzle Says:

    This post makes me thankful that all I had to have was 10 years of braces (including a palate expander at age 8 and prongs on the back of my front teeth so I wouldn’t push on them with my tongue), double jaw surgery (hooboy, I feel you with the titanium plates and screws), and the loss of five deformed teeth to replace them with 4 pretty but fake ones — at least my body wasn’t attacking the teeth themselves!

  • Micaela Says:

    Do you have internal or external resorption? Sorry, I googled it and now I have to know which kind. Don’t leave me hangin’ like a loose tooth, okay?

  • Krista J. Says:

    Maggie, I had oral surgery and bone grafting done about a year and a half ago. I know how hard it is to go through that! Mine was also because I didn’t take care of myself and had an infection that got so bad I finally forced myself to see a specialist (a Periodontist actually) who told me I needed to have surgery right away…or I might lose my tooth! So I definitely know how you feel. I hope that finally all will be well with your oral health…its so much nicer when things are going well! :)

  • Stephni Says:

    Oh I have so much sympathy when it comes to teeth issues. Thankfully I am not a horse and have a mate already because if I had to be picked by the state of my teeth I would get the village idiot. I am also thankful for modern dentistry every day because at least it is not noticeable and I am able to, well, chew. Mine is as a result of years of anxious grinding at night. I have no control over the grinding but feel like it is my fault. Like I failed somehow (also because I hate the mouth guard and have only worn it for brief intervals). And as I write this I can see how this is not an attitude that will help ease anxiety :) I am wondering now if acupuncture won’t help me also. Thanks for sharing.

  • Maren Says:

    I’m in the middle of yet another round of root canals and crowns and fillings (every five years or so I have to get a ton of work done), and this post makes me want to tell everyone reading who has good or even decent dental insurance to please, *please* get your work done while you still can, do not disregard this amazing gift you possess. I have terrible insurance and will probably not be able to finish this round of work before my other teeth start acting up again, and I never realized until I grew up that the only thing I wanted was good insurance. Find a dentist you actually like, suck it up, make the time, and when you have healthy teeth that don’t hurt you will be so happy.

  • sugarleg Says:

    wow. just wow. sending you an and your bod an extra dose of white light. keep on keepin’ on MM.

  • Min Says:

    I am so sorry this has happened to you.

    Here’s to 2011 being a healthier year!

  • Kristina Says:

    Holy shipballs. I’m trying to wrap my mind around all that you’ve accomplished since I started reading your blog, only you’ve been doing it with all that pain. I’m going to take this menstrual cramps and stfu now. You’re kind of my hero now. (Sorry that you weren’t before – I don’t really do heroes, as a general rule.)

  • auntie Says:

    Teeth issues creep me out.

    *gag*