When You Bite at Night

Twenty years ago, I had a peculiar experience camping.

Unable to sleep, I ventured out of my tent to fetch a soothing glass of wine. I was not the only restless soul.  Moonlight illuminated Mom, sipping wine and stargazing. I joined her on the picnic bench near her tent.

We exchanged polite murmurs and tilted our heads to the sky. The Milky Way Dangled just beyond our reach, a three-dimensional filigree of dust and light.

A strange sound interrupted our peace. It was a clomping, lopping clatter, like a tiny horse trotting across a Formica countertop. Puzzled, I strained to listen. The weird clopping continued. My brain whizzed to make sense of the unusual racket.

I mentally ticked off possibilities.  Were wild animals engaged in a sinister game of rock-hockey?  Was someone taking infrared photographs of us? Perhaps a serial killer chipped future notches into a nearby boulder?  The odd clacking sound became louder and more insistent.

The horror of the unknown swept over me. My body dumped a massive quantity of tingly adrenaline straight to my toes.  Before I succumbed to a full-fledged panic attack, I whispered to Mom, “Do you hear that?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s Dad. He’s grinding his teeth.”

I would have been less surprised if she had told me the noise came from aliens or Bigfoot.  I crept up to the tent. Clack, clack, clack, grate. Chomp.  Chomp.

Poor Dad. I never imagined tooth grinding could make such a racket. His jaw gnashing seemed so powerful; certainly, he would pulverize his face into splinters before morning.

Dad made it through the night, but years later he sacrificed four cracked and worn molars to bruxism.

Painful Teeth

Ten percent of the population experiences significant bruxism (teeth grinding).  Daily, you chew food using 20-40 pounds of pressure. Nighttime bruxing can generate 250 pounds of pressure.  Dentists and oral surgeons can’t decide if stress or uneven teeth cause bruxism.

My personal experience is that people on the autism spectrum grind their teeth more often. The proprioceptive input relieves residual nighttime anxiety.

Fast forward to winter 2012. The unnerving clomping and grating sound revisited me–in my son’s bedroom. I considered making Liev’s first dental appointment as I listened to his symphonic teeth-gnashing.

I put it off, naturally. Regular doctor appointments induce hysteria in both Liev and myself. Brushing Liev’s teeth is like imposing dental hygiene on a badger.  This daily struggle I leave to Papa or ignore outright. A dental exam seemed unmanageable.

That changed last week when Liev broke a molar.

Panicked, I finagled a same-day dental appointment. The dentist informed me that a combination of tooth grinding and decay caused his molar to deteriorate and break. He also recommended swift removal. An extraction was scheduled for 7 am the next morning.

The kindly dentist prepared me for the possibility of general anesthesia for my rambunctious son.

To be continued…