Getting to the root- a tooth story

“I am not one of those who neglect the body in order to make of it a sacrificial offering for the soul, since my soul would thoroughly dislike being served in such a fashion.” 

Rainer Maria Rilke

For this month’s blog I wanted to share with you a recent personal story (apologies in advance for the possible indulgence). This is a story about how trauma can be stored in our body, even in the smallest of spaces and the powerful impact it can have when it’s finally acknowledged and released. As the well-known book on trauma explains “The Body Keeps the Score” and it seems for me, my body had decided it was time for scores to be settled.

Back when I was 17 years old and living away from home, a part of one of my big teeth (a molar) fell away. Back then I was someone who never made a fuss, the classic good girl (I was even head girl at the time). To draw any attention to myself was unheard of, preferring to hide behind emotionally demanding friends. So you might guess what I did about my partly injured tooth. Absolutely nothing! After a few months, the pain was starting to become unbearable. I thankfully sought refuge in a lovely matron, Annie, a real motherly type, warm, kind and comforting. Annie took me in hand and emergency dental work ensued. 

But now I had a problem tooth. A tooth that would occasionally niggle with sensitivity, requiring the odd deep filing to hold the nerves at bay. But over 20 years later, my tooth had had enough. The pain could not be ignored any longer.

An Awakening

And so fast forward to February 2021, me sitting in the dentist chair introducing her to my problem tooth. Or as she called it my tooth trauma.

The goal of my first lengthy dental surgery was to extract the sensitive nerves causing my immediate pain (ouch). My trusty explorer (i.e. my dentist) found these two canals quickly and dealt with my pesky nerves (hurrah). I discovered that it wasn’t my original tooth trauma causing my current pain. There were three canals to my problem tooth, and the two canals (and nerves) unaffected by my trauma had decided to cry out in sympathy for my third damaged canal. My dentist called this an awakening. These two nerves sent out the alarm that it was time to deal with my roots.  

The infection erupts

And boy was that pain about to be experienced, first at a physical level and then at a deeper psychological level.  What followed was many sleepless nights, and painful meals with my tooth heavily throbbing and the other teeth tingling in sympathy. I cried tears of frustration and felt scared as to this unknown state and how long it might last for. 

Just before my second dental appointment, my final canal decided to release it’s full power in the form of a nasty infection which cause half of my face to swell to comical proportions. As I unveiled my face behind my mask, my dentist couldn’t hide her shock. 

A cleansing

And so my second stint in the chair was to be a cleansing. My body was clearly not ready for the next stage of the root canal, it needed attention of a different kind. The third canal lay under years of bone trauma and was finally unearthed from its hiding place. The poison which I had stored for so long in this tiny canal (only 2 cm deep) had to be confronted and removed. As the procedure drew to a close, tears began to stream down my face in absolute relief. The emotions continued to flow when I returned home from my appointment. I kept wondering about my 17-year-old self, what I was going through at the time and what had been stored within me for so long. 

This whole episode has reminded me how our bodies tell our story. Our bodies remember our journeys. They hold our life experiences; the good, the bad and the ugly. To ignore our bodies (as encouraged in our heady Western society) is to miss such rich treasures. We also ignore them at our peril. As Bessel van der Kolk (the author of The Body Keeps the Score) explains:

“The more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed. People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or by going into a panic — they develop a fear of fear itself.”

Whilst thankfully my physical pain has long gone, the psychological unfolding continues. My body has spoken. I now need to listen.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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