This is a topic that is far more difficult to discuss than some of my sexual abuse. Not because it’s worse than the abuse, but because it’s embarrassing to discuss and admit. It also ties to the abuse, as it was the catalyst for me finally accepting that my memories of sexual abuse weren’t just my imagination. The issue is that I have horrible tooth decay and I’m in pain pretty much all the time.
I’ll back up just a bit here, since this is a long and complex issue.
When I was young, I didn’t really get cavities. Every appointment I came out with a cavity-free checkup. I loved the dentist back then. Loved getting my teeth cleaned… But that all changed when I reached the age of nine or ten. I don’t remember the exact age, but it was after I’d already gotten some permanent teeth in and I began getting cavities. Though that wasn’t even the real reason I began hating the dentist. While I didn’t like cavities, I wasn’t afraid of the shots or treatment for them. The issue was that the cleaning portion went from pleasant to painful. In fact, even brushing my teeth became painful at that young age.
The older I got, the more painful my teeth became. I’ve never been able to chew ice. Nuts have been impossible unless they are the very soft variety, because they’d break my teeth. Ice cubes also broke my teeth. And this began in middle school. By the time I reached my freshman year of high school, I’d have six to eight cavities per year. And the cavities were getting worse as I made my way through school.
By the time I graduated, the dentist was already telling me I needed crowns and would eventually need root canals on all my molars. He’d done crown preps and likely told me he did, but PTSD is a nasty thing when it comes to triggering topics. Which means that I blocked much of what he’d said to me and that meant I didn’t get proper care.
By the time I was twenty-one, my wisdom teeth began growing in and pushed two of my molars upward (as the wisdom tooth was underneath) and I eventually lost those two molars. I remember asking the surgeon if he could leave my wisdom teeth and remove some of the molars that were full of tooth decay so I could have fresh teeth.
He said no.
My wisdom teeth were removed on my twenty-first birthday.
This pattern of pain in my teeth continued throughout my years. And the cost for my treatments went up significantly so that rather than get several things done a year, I was only able to do one or two things. Leaving my other teeth to get worse.
This is something that happens to a lot of people, though. Not the majority, but a lot still. So I never thought much of it. For one, tooth decay ran in my family. I also have porous teeth. So I tend to get more cavities than people without porous teeth. I never thought there might be more to my suffering beyond genetics.
But I was wrong.
As I got older and began having kids, my tooth decay got worse overnight. But I was taking all of my vitamins and doing what needed doing. Nothing worked. Nothing helped.
I remember going to a dentist at the time and the assistant was so mean. She kept yelling that I just had poor hygiene. I kept telling her that I brushed twice a day, sometimes three times. I flossed and had been regularly since my teens. But she was mean. She didn’t care and she humiliated me as I sat there in tears, all those people around hearing her yell at me for not taking care of my teeth.
I pretty much gave up at that point. I stopped trying to figure out what was wrong. I became horribly ashamed of my tooth issues even though prior they hadn’t really bothered me (aside from the pain).
Now, I’m going to shift topics here for a bit and get into some of the sexual abuse. Since—as I mentioned above—these things relate.
I’d had the memories of what happened when I was younger but I’d done a great job of suppressing them. Mostly I remembered being in an attic and performing oral on people. But again, I dismissed these memories by believing they weren’t mine.
Later, when I met others with the same memories, I thought, “Ah ha! I must have heard them talk about these things.” I held onto that for a long time.
Then I met someone at a writing event that had the same memories too and she’d asked if I was in therapy. I’d been telling her about my memories and without consciously acknowledging it, kept calling them ‘my memories’. So when she asked if I was in therapy and I said no, that they weren’t my memories, it all sort of smacked me upside the head. Everyone there saw it too, I’m sure, as my realizations of what I was saying were slowly sinking in…
I finally accepted that these were my memories.
But I still did nothing with them. It was easier to believe that they were false memories than real. Despite knowing so many people with the same memories, I didn’t want to accept it.
Jumping forward, I was sitting in my new dentist’s chair and she was coming in to discuss my tooth decay with me. For the first time, a dentist took what I was saying to heart and did some research.
What had happened was that she’d tried to work on a tooth of mine and the moment she took the drill to it, it shattered. More crumbled… She was unable to put the crown on and had to remove it instead because it literally crumbled. She’d never seen anything like it.
I’d warned her that would happen. It often did. But seeing is believing.
So she asked me many questions. I told her, as I often shared with dentists, my history. That I’d been dealing with this since my youth. That things never made sense. That I’d been accused of bulimia, being a meth addict, not brushing or flossing… I told her how I’d likely been at fault because for a month in college I had a diet of pop tarts and mountain dew… How I’d skipped brushing when I’d had the flu and had likely caused issues. How I’d been allergic to milk since I was very young but didn’t stop drinking milk until I was my early thirties…
While she definitely felt that being on milk when I was allergic during my youth contributed in a big way to my tooth decay (because I wasn’t absorbing calcium, which means now my bones might have issues as well), that wasn’t the biggest issue. She also felt with my level of anxiety that I might also have GERD, which can cause tooth decay, but she felt there was something more.
She’d done a great deal of research between my visits and as I sat in the dentist chair, waiting for her analysis, my heart began to pound. I wasn’t sure why. She’d done something no other dentist had taken the time to do. And she wasn’t getting paid to do it, so I didn’t know why I felt so nervous. I already knew I was losing my teeth. What could she possibly say that would make me so nervous?
But there I was, panicked… Waiting for her.
She came into the small room and sat quietly. She looked nervous. Confident in her findings, but still nervous. She was more pale than usual.
When she finally spoke, she began explaining that sugar isn’t what causes tooth decay. That it is related, but not the ‘cause’. Then she went on to explain the many types of bacteria we have in our mouths and how two of them, Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus, are the worst at the level of tooth decay they cause. She also explained that I had high levels of both in my mouth.
One, Streptococcus mutans, was passed from parents or family members kissing or sharing drinks and utensils. That pretty much everyone has these bacteria early on in life and if they don’t early on, they will when they begin kissing as it passes from mouth to mouth.
Then she explained the second one, Lactobacillus. She hesitated. Moved uncomfortably in her chair as she tried to make eye contact.
My heart began to sink though I didn’t know why.
I felt my blood draining from my face. I started checking out, though I hadn’t understood that’s what was happening at the time.
When she finally spoke, she said that this bacteria is often associated with… she stopped talking and pointed to her nether region. Again, I felt dizzy. Tears were building in my eyes.
I was still confused, though.
She began to explain further that eventually, most people will get this type of bacteria in their mouths as well. But only after they’ve taken part in… more silence… then she very quietly says, “oral sex”.
Now my head was hammering. But I’d had oral sex. I knew I had. So still wasn’t getting why she’d brought it up.
But then she explained how I had a lot. Way too much of this bacteria for someone my age. She said that most people get that bacteria in small amounts in their late teens or early twenties. That it’s small enough amounts that by the time they are in their late fifties or sixties, they begin to really feel the effects of these bacteria. But I had it in my early thirties. Which in her professional opinion meant two things…
- I’d been exposed to oral bacteria at a very young age and that I’d likely had the bacteria in my mouth around the time I began getting my permanent teeth.
- I’d been exposed to more than one person’s bacteria.
I could hardly think. I was lost in a sea of horror as I soaked this in. Because in that moment, I knew that my memories were my memories. Because now I had the evidence to prove it.
Shortly after that, I began sharing with my husband and friends, trying to sort out the abuse and how it might have happened. Within about four months, I started therapy. And once in therapy, had help tracking timelines and people and finding the proof that I needed to accept my past and begin healing.
And it all started with this dentist. She—in taking the time to go above and beyond fixing cavities—gave me the answers I’d needed.
I’ll never forget this woman and wish she hadn’t taken her practice out of state.
But that leads me to today. I’m in pain all the time. What I really need is a whole new set of teeth and none of these horrid bacteria in my mouth. But teeth aren’t cheap to get fixed. So I’m stuck in this ever slow process of waiting for coverage or saving up to get one little thing done, and now that my teeth crumble when they’re worked on, it makes it very hard to get anything done.
Even writing this, I feel my body trying to check out. I don’t want to face that not only did the sexual abuse cause me trauma, but it’s also caused my constant tooth pain. My fingers are numb as I type this and it’s making me have a great deal of typos…
Thank goodness for spellcheck.
And this comes at a time when I’m mostly present and doing well. Which tells me how much this has haunted me.
I’ve known about this for many years now. At least five. But I haven’t been able to talk about it until now.
I’m sharing now because people need to know. They need to understand that had anyone early on done what this one dentist had, I’d have begun my healing much sooner. People also need to know that this can happen and is something to watch for.
I blamed myself for so long, despite having people around me that rarely brushed their teeth, that drank a two-liter of pop per day, that ate constant candy or were bulimic… And they didn’t have the tooth decay I did and have had. I blamed myself because dentists blamed me. They accused and shamed rather than research.
I’m tired of being ashamed of this. And it’s all fresh for me because I have a dying tooth that really needs fixing and I don’t have insurance right now. There’s no need to be ashamed of something that I can’t help. Yet I have been.
So here it is, all out there, for everyone to read… Oral sex puts bacteria in your mouth. The more you have, the more bacteria you’ll have. The more partners you have, the more bacteria you’ll have. The younger you are… the more the bacteria will affect you early on in life.
I hate feeling ashamed of something I can’t control. I hate the vulnerability it’s taking to write this and publish it, despite knowing it’s what needs to happen so I can let go of it and move on. I love being vulnerable but hate it in this sense.
Now that I’ve shared, it’s time for some self-care. So I’m going quiet while I feel the depth of how much this has affected me. Whether that be the physical pain, the humiliation, or my own self-destructive responses of denial and pride. I’ve kept myself in pain because I didn’t want to lose teeth. Because I didn’t want to talk about this and do what needed doing. And my goals are different now.
In order to stay present and in my power and joy, I can’t deny these things. To myself or others. They need facing.
So off to yoga, and self-care, and hopefully by later today, I’ll feel better.