It shouldn’t have been a shock when my tooth broke off, but of course, it was.
For months, my jaw and teeth have been in a constant state of clenching and grinding. Now, a molar had broken in half, pushed over the edge by one bite of a salted caramel cookie and a steady diet of political news-induced stress.
Research shows that as much as 70 percent of bruxism (the medical term for jaw and tooth grinding) occurs as a result of stress and anxiety. For me, the issue started after November’s election, when, like millions of other Americans (or to be exact, 57 percent, according to the American Psychological Association) my anxiety level ratcheted up to an all-time high and stayed that way, thanks to the relentless stream of Trump and Republican-related nightmares we’ve been bombarded with ever since.
In 2017, there is no escaping the news or the stress that it can bring. All we can do is try to find a balance between staying informed and staying sane — and I, for one, am failing. Like a lab rat hitting a feeder bar, I tap every mobile news alert. I refresh the same news outlets multiple times a day, then text stories to my friends to share in the outrage. I read Twitter after I go to bed. Then, apparently, I grind my teeth to their studs in my sleep.
After my tooth broke, I knew I needed to do more than just get it fixed. I had to stop my teeth from grinding in the first place.
Searching the internet for solutions, I almost immediately hit pay dirt in the form of a tweet by model and national treasure Chrissy Teigen. It seemed that she— along with many of her followers — was having the same Trump-induced jaw clenching problem I was. Now I knew I wasn’t alone, and even better, she had a solution.
Botox! I always knew there would be a day when it would come to my aid.
Perhaps less news and stress were not the only way to save my teeth. Thanks to modern medicine, there was a way to maintain my ill-advised lifestyle by throwing money at the problem ― and neurotoxins into my jaw. I was into it.
While I waited for my dentist appointment to inquire about Botox, I decided to explore other options. With two weeks to go, my mouth was killing me.
In the course of my highly unscientific research, I came across other random internet sources suggesting herbal tinctures to reduce stress. While I don’t generally go for natural healing, there’s an herbal remedies store less than a block from my apartment. I figured I’d give it a try.
I reviewed my situation with an exceedingly calm and sympathetic salesperson who explained the many stress-reducing herbs she herself took each day. We landed on something called motherwort, a tincture that apparently, “calms the heart.” It sounded legit, in a Shakespearean sort of way. The quiet loveliness of the store and how good it smelled in there was making me rethink my entire position on herbal remedies. Perhaps just hanging around this place would be enough to solve the problem.
It wasn’t until we reached the register that my herbal expert confessed she clenched her own jaw so much her front teeth needed to be replaced — and not for the first time. This did not inspire confidence. Credit card already in hand, I bought the stuff anyway. As I left, I couldn’t help but think how bad things have gotten that a person who works in the most relaxing store in New York is literally snapping her teeth off from stress.
The motherwort experiment ended about as quickly as it began. The tincture’s absolutely horrible taste (the solution is mostly cane alcohol), combined with the saleswoman’s confidence-busting admission meant that I wasn’t even getting a placebo effect. I’m sure this stuff works wonders for some people, but I would have been better off doing a shot of whiskey.
Still in search of a solution, I moved on to a magnesium supplement, which I read can calm nerves and relieve muscle tension. I must have stopped reading before the part that explains that magnesium is sometimes used as a sleep aid, resulting in a very long and confusing day of nearly falling asleep at my desk. A switch to taking it before bed yielded better results. I felt like I slept a little better and woke up feeling less tense, but it did nothing to aid in my daytime grinding. I still needed a real cure.
Finally, it was time to see the dentist. After getting my tooth repaired, I gave him the rundown of the grinding situation, the stress and the remedies I’d tried, casually suggesting that Botox, or perhaps even Xanax, was the next logical step he could kindly help me out with.
He was quiet for a moment, then replied, “Have you watched that show ‘The Night Of’ on HBO?”
“Yes, why?” I asked, confused.
“You remind me of John Turturro’s character, the lawyer with the foot eczema, trying a million different things to fix it.”
This was not the response I was looking for.
He continued. “I think you’re kidding about the Xanax,” (I wasn’t) “and the Botox is really just for people with extreme cases of TMD. What you need is a custom night guard to protect your teeth. And maybe get away from your computer every couple of hours. Try to relax a little bit.”
Ugh. So sensible. Why don’t I have a cool dentist, like Chrissy Teigen?
In a way, he was right. I was trying to avoid dealing with the real problem by treating the symptoms. But there’s a good reason I was looking for quick fixes: If I stopped reading the news right now, it wouldn’t make me stop worrying about all the people who stand to get hurt over the next four years. I wouldn’t be less freaked out by how divided our country has become. And of course, I’d miss mocking Trump and Co’s astounding daily displays of incompetence with my friends.
But I am trying to dial back the insanity. I’m doing yoga when I can and reading books on paper instead of being glued to my phone. I’ve even banned Twitter from my bed. And I’m going to get the stupid night guard. Hopefully it holds my teeth together until the midterms.