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July 01, 2006

Losing My Teeth to Writerly Angst


Marielee by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER

Everyone on this blog seems so nice, so put together. Thank you, Susan, for inviting me to guest-blog.  Hope you don’t mind a dose of angsty-ness.  I thought when I moved out of New York to sleepy Providence, Rhode Island, some of my angstyness would dissipate (the interregnum year, spent doing research for my novel, SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER, in hyperspeed Seoul Korea actually wasn’t super calming, either), so I’ve determined I am just hardwired to be angsty.

So can I tell you about my teeth?

I have the kind of teeth that make dentists swoon.  I had an awesome dentist in NYC, chosen by my girlfriends and me because he was so damn cute (turns out he was a great dentist as well, pwew!).  He used to always say he’d cry if anything ever happened to my teeth.

Forty-plus years into life and no cavities.  Not a one.   But something happened recently that would make Dr. Kent cry, if he knew.  My current dentist stuck his little tool that looked like a miniature sheperd’s staff into one of my back teeth and said: “Uh oh.”

“Cavity????”  I shrieked. 

“Nah,” he said.  “But we’ll have to put a filling in all the same.”

Now, I have never heard the word “filling” used in conjunction with my teeth.  I don’t drink soda, I floss twice a day.  But it turns out that when I write and when I sleep, I clench my teeth so badly that I’ve actually worn off the enamel on some of my teeth, creating a opening into the dentin, same as if I had a cavity. 

May I point out the irony of my father, who survived the Korean War on a starvation diet, but never suffered a filling in HIS teeth?  Now his daughter, who has never known real hunger, has to get a filling because she is so angsty?  Really sad commentary on modern life, ey?

So just as I have gone through a small, private gloat-fest (and inviting the wrath of the karma police) over a small and always-rare check I received for some reprint rights for my novel.  Now—zap!--just as fast I had to sign over every penny for my four (!!) fillings and something called a Night Guard which snaps onto my two front teeth and makes me look like some kind of overgrown chipmunk but keeps me from clenching my teeth at night (n.b. a quick query to my angsty writer friends, 90% have this device, which I have never heard of before).  It works, yeah, but I’ve been naughty and not wearing it every night because it’s wicked uncomfortable.

Epilogue: The other night I had a deam that I finally met George Clooney.  He looked even cuter that he did on ER, and he even asked me out on a date.  Of course I considered for a looong dream-moment saying Why, yes, of course!  But then I decided I had to be honest and tell him that I was married.  Urk!  I woke myself with my teeth audibly clacking like a pair of maracas and my jaw muscles in a vise.  Guess I’d better wear the %$)(*#$(%#&* Night Guard.  #(*#$_)%*!!!

p.s. Thanks to Susan and others, I have been finding blogging and guest-blogging a delightful procrastination tool—look, I’m writing!!  You can aid and abet this habit at GreenFertility.blogspot.com, where I write about health, recipes, and anything that vaguely has to do with fertility including how I keep my teeth looking naturally nice and white (what’s left of ‘em, at least) and with pictures of the choppers in question.Somebodysdaughter

Thank you, Marie, for joining us here at Lipstick!  Marie is an acclaimed Korean American writer, author of Somebody's Daughter and the young adult novels, Finding My Voice and Saying Goodbye. Her stories and essays have been published in Witness, The Kenyon Review, Newsweek, and the New York Times.


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My night guard and I have had a long, loving relationship for the 10 years it's been since I quit smoking and starting cracking my teeth from clenching (so be glad it's just fillings -- in my case, it's been root canals and crowns!). My dentist, whom I adore, always swore that if I'd just start riding horses I'd relax and stop clenching. When I went in for my last visit, she told the hygenist: "She's another horse person. I told her to ride so she'd stop clenching. Now she clenches when she rides."


The funny thing is that my brother and sister, who are at least ten years older than me, have had more problems with cavities than me. Flouride in the water system?

I've been a clencher for about six years now. I have a mouth guard that looks like the retainers we all wore in junior high -- it doesn't stop me from clenching, but its presence prevents me from grinding my teeth smooth. (Sort of like how a helmet won't stop epileptic seizures, but does stave off major damage.)

My mom says she was a clencher in college, but that she outgrew it. I'm sleeping with my fingers crossed!

I must do all my clenching in the daytime LOL but my oldest child, who thank God does't crawl in my bed anymore, used to GRIND his teeth in his sleep! ARGGGGG It would wake me up out of a dead sleep!

I hate going to the dentist. I mean, really, really hate it. It's attributable either to the novacaine-free fillings I got as a kid or SIr Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. Maybe both.

I have friends who are dentists and I like them - I just don't like going.

I grind my teeth more as I get older, but it's while I'm awake and trying not to call someone an asshole to their face.

Hi folks! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I used to own horses when I was little, and it was reall relaxing, although I bet I was clenching, too.

Now, I gotta find my dentist to tell him he's famous! What a nice guy!

p.s. haven't HAD novacaine yet--that was my biggest childhood fear (ironically, Amie). They just kinda spackled over my teeth with filling stuff, so I haven't had the "full" experience yet. Eeeps.


I'm totally laughing at the novacaine! I took the kids to get spacers in (they're getting braces next week *sigh*) and my oldest who is also a weenie about pain, said he wanted that liquid stuff to put him to sleep. Then my youngest says, maybe they'll get that gas instead--and the way he said it you would have thought he was talking about chocolate cake!!!!

I had the plastic over the teeth retainer for ages. I think I wore them out about every other month for 2-3 years. Even the industrial strength one never did any good.

Marie, thanks so much for blogging with us, and what a great story! I, too, am a teeth grinder. My dentist has threatened me with the dreaded Mouth Guard, but I've been avoiding it by trying hard to keep from crunching my teeth together when I do it most: at my desk. She recommended placing a pencil between my teeth so I realize instantly when I bite down. I think that's helped a lot. Though I've got an appointment in less than two weeks for a cleaning and I'll have to ask her (again) to please whittle down some of the jagged bottom edges. Gulp.

p.s. re: Mouth Guard

Ooooh, I have been so bad about wearing it. The dentist said if I wore it for 30 days straight, it would break my teeth clenching habit. I haven't worn it at night (it's also not very sexy) and when I write I'm stuffing my face with cookies; he said not to wear it while eating. Whaddaya gonna do?


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Thanks for this great article. Anxiety really is a hurtle for the people who suffer of this. Thank you for sharing, looking forward to more articles about anxiety.

There is more than one alternative to wearing a mouth guard. In fact although mouth guards protect teeth, they make about half the people who use them clench more (not less), and thus bring on migraines, neck pain, facial pain, and a host of other problems.

The problem is that mouth guards don't actually train you out of the clenching and grinding habit, but biofeedback can. The SleepGuard biofeedback headband will give you a little audio signal against your forehead (which you hear in both ears) each time you clench. you train yourself (while awake) to respond to that signal by relaxing your jaw, and that Pavlovian training carries over into your sleep.

I am an inventor (invented Laser Tag, Radio Fence, and a bunch of other cool stuff), and I invented the biofeedback headband because I had some friends who suffered pain from nighttime clenching. I let anyone try it for 3 weeks for free. If you want to check it out, go to http://StopGrinding.com.

There are many other ways you can reduce your grinding and clenching as well. I think there are about 20 ways listed at http://StopGrinding.org (a non-profit resource website dedicated to helping people who clench and grind).

There is a national survey of clenchers and grinders under way at StopGrinding.org. The more people who take the survey, the more people will be helped!

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Great post! I love your writing style and humor... and hey, look on the bright side, forty years and STILL no cavity! you're luckier than I, that's for sure!

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Good work, thanks for sharing this information!!

I really like my new dentist. She knows what she's doing... compared to the previous one I had...

I had a friend who pulled his own tooth rather than visit the dentist. I know which one i thought was more painful.
I'm 40 with no fillings. Maybe i'm just lucky because i do have a sweet tooth, but then again i do brush twice a day, floss and use a mouth wash. Also i don't let any plaque build up. I think that causes the most damage. I use a handy little plaque removal tool i found here http://www.plaqueremover.net

Thanks for sharing this informative blog. Hope to read more of it soon.


Teeth grinding may weaken teeth but no more than tooth decay.

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Clenching and teeth grinding is a very common problem that causes the wearing down of the enamel. Prevention of further breakdown of tooth structure would be wearing a nightguard at night. This is a plastic mouthguard that protects the teeth at night.

Teeth grinding really is a serious thing, not only it can damaged ones teeth but if you happen to sleep beside a teeth grinding person, I would say good luck if you can sleep.

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There is more than one alternative to wearing a mouth guard. In fact although mouth guards protect teeth

Oh, dear! Teeth clenching is one of the symptoms of bruxism. Good thing you wear a night guard during sleep. Anyone is prone to bruxism due to stress. So, if you see signs, better go to the dentist to find ways of preventing it. It's not good that teeth grinding continues everytime you sleep because it may damage your teeth. Some dentists may advise you to wear mouth guards. Well, these are very useful for protecting your teeth from grinding because you'll not stop grinding, however.

I used to grate my teeth whilst i slept and i would dream that they were all breaking and falling out. Went on for years and scared me - it was all due to stress! Cured that and i stopped!

This really is an awesome post, I'm happy I recently found. I have been trying to find guest writers for my blog so if you ever decide that's something you are interested in please feel free to contact me.

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I have been preventing it by trying challenging to keep from crushing my tooth together when I do it most at my workplace. I suggested putting a pad between my tooth so I fully grasp immediately when I attack down.

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