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Stress Led Me to Two Useless Root Canals

Then life gave me a reality check. My body called my bluff. My wake-up call came in the form of tooth pain that failed to diminish despite a dozen expensive and time-consuming dental visits.
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I've always been somewhat of a stress mess. "Driven" and "hard charging" are apt descriptions. I was raised in the Jewish achievement religion, which restricted my occupational choices to doctor or lawyer. This over-the-top work ethic served me well as a corporate litigator in private practice where billable hours were king. In my current career as a nutritionist and certified wellness coach, my Type A tendencies are less of an asset. But they persist.

I've been working diligently to force relaxation and had convinced myself I was making measurable progress. After all, I get regular massages. I go on vacation or at least I allow my husband to drag me out of town now and then. I practice mindfulness by sitting with a scented candle for at least a minute before I start my day. I understood that I was not in any danger of turning into a happy-go-lucky party animal, but felt I was making appreciable strides on the stress reduction front.

I'd even armed myself with all the latest research about chronic stress and its harmful effects on body and brain. I'm fond of quoting the alarming statistic that 90 percent of all physician visits are triggered by stress. I know Arianna Huffington's transformational story.

Then life gave me a reality check. My body called my bluff. My wake-up call came in the form of tooth pain that failed to diminish despite a dozen expensive and time-consuming dental visits.

Here's my personal cautionary stress tale. Last February I noticed that suddenly chewing on the left side of my mouth was a no-go. It hurt. So, off to the dentist I went. First came several bite adjustments with the magic articulating paper. No relief. I dug up my old prescription night guard from my grinding days and tried that. No luck.

Perplexed, my dentist referred me to an endodontist. His high powered microscope revealed cracks in two molars in the vicinity of the pain source. Naturally, he suggested root canals on both. As a skeptical New Yorker, it sounded a little too much like the Jiffy Lube dirty air filter ploy. So I discussed options with my trusted dentist and we decided on a crown, reasoning that it would likely solve the problem with less trauma to my mouth and wallet. Wrong. I still couldn't eat anything that wasn't pulverized on the left side on my mouth. After another round of ineffective bite adjustments, I succumbed to root canal #1. Failure. My one-sided masticating continued.

Since grinding the back molar to smithereens hadn't worked, we decided the offending tooth must be its next door neighbor. After all, it also harbored a microscopic crack. Grind, grind, grind, and root canal #2 was in the books. I hoped for the best and went off on vacation to NYC, expecting to be able to enjoy the abundance of excellent Italian restaurants. No dice. Even mushy Branzino delivered pain. The breadbasket was definitely off limits.

Tired of this Sherlock Holmes ordeal, I gave up for several months and attempted to get comfortable with living with the pain. After all, I wasn't starving to death. Eventually persistence got the better of me. I just couldn't stop trying to figure out the pain culprit.

The answer came from an unexpected source. My massage therapist had been working with me on some body misalignment issues. When I mentioned my nagging tooth pain, she told me that she'd given seminars to dentists to convince them that not all tooth aches start in the mouth. My therapist told me she was "fairly confident" she could banish the pain. My reaction? I hope so, but I doubt it. She went to work on the fascia underlying my perennially stressed neck and upper back muscles. I helped by doing stretches at home as she suggested. And then, voila, suddenly the ache started to lessen. A few months later I could eat like a normal human being again.

Still, I'm a little sad that my obliviousness and denial led to destruction of two perfectly good pearly whites. Take my advice: Next time you're in pain, think stress.