About seven and a half weeks ago—the day I discovered that Vice UK’s ten-minute video about my Zendik story was on its way to going viral—I started feeling intense pain in my teeth. Checking my trusty Prescription for Nutritional Healing for an entry on toothache, I found only an entry on tooth decay: according to author Phyllis Balch, a tooth doesn’t cause you pain until it’s pretty far gone.
This freaked me out. I’d only had one cavity, ever, and that one had afflicted a wisdom tooth that needed pulled anyway. I did not want to believe that the tooth demon had returned. Yet I had a good idea of why he might have: a couple months earlier, I’d spent two weeks at Earthaven. And, determined to travel with just my small backpack, I’d brought along a dozen bars of organic, fair trade, very dark (80%) evaporated-cane-juice-infused chocolate, rather than the bulkier, homemade, honey-sweetened stuff. Plus (I noted later), I’d eaten sorghum (rather than honey) while I was there, responded to kitchen chaos by snacking on oats and raisins (at times) rather than making proper meals, and consumed only eggs in the way of animal food. So…maybe I’d invited the demon in.
In the next week or so, I made some changes: I quit eating Brazil nuts with honey for dessert every night, started brushing with tooth powder and clay instead of just tooth powder (and swishing oregano-oil-infused water around in my mouth after meals), ingested only room-temperature food and drink, and chewed on white sage leaves when the pain got really bad. But the pain kept showing up. And so, the next weekend, in my notebook, I asked myself, what would I do if I were determined to heal my teeth, and believed it was entirely up to me?
Pro tip: this is a non-threatening—and sneaky—way to get yourself to admit what you already know.
Well, my list was long—and it included the unthinkable: giving up not only coffee (which I didn’t drink a ton of anyway) but also chocolate. I’d been relying on chocolate (again, mostly the homemade kind) to get work done for fifteen years by then; I was accustomed to popping one chocolate ball for every half hour I spent writing, editing, cleaning, painting the front porch—you name it. Nonetheless, once I’d acknowledged in writing that quitting chocolate would help, I couldn’t pretend not to know this. And once I’d told my mother I knew it, I had to follow through.
So I did. I quit coffee one day, chocolate the next. And the pain lessened dramatically. Then I procured the book Cure Tooth Decay from the library—and received the news that, to heal my teeth, I was going to need to overhaul the way I ate.
So, again, I did. I also stopped drinking alcohol. And, the day after I started taking a mix of fermented cod liver oil and high-vitamin butter oil, the pain departed entirely.
Hurray! I thought. I’ve healed myself! But, partly because I was curious and partly because various family members would have had my hide otherwise, I went ahead and kept the dentist appointment I’d made when the pain was awful.
Stepping into the exam room, I was expecting an examination. A conversation. Maybe some story-telling. Instead, I got X-rayed. And, once the X-rays were done, the dental assistant informed me, in a cheery tone, that I had a “BIG cavity!” When I asked to see it, she turned the screen toward me, and pointed it out. But the angle was wrong; I simply couldn’t make it out. And when I protested that my teeth weren’t hurting, she said that was because the nerve inside the tooth had died.
After at most five minutes in the room, the doctor prescribed a root canal. When I attempted a question about how long it took a tooth to die, he said he had no idea, and couldn’t tell me—but he could tell me how long it took to do a root canal!
Was the tooth dead? Or wasn’t it? I could have sworn I felt something when I tapped it. Yet the dentist was sure it was gone.
That’s when I entered a tale of two stories: in the dentist’s story, the pain had stopped when the nerve—and tooth—had died; in my story, the pain had stopped when I’d listened to my tooth long enough, and given it the support it needed to start healing itself.
I know I’m not getting a root canal. And I’m pretty sure my story is true. So I’m going to continue swishing with salt water after meals (the oreganol trick turned out not to work so well), experimenting with the Cure Tooth Decay diet, and staying away from coffee and chocolate (actually, having experienced freedom from chocolate-as-crutch, I don’t ever want to re-enter captivity, even if my teeth say it’s okay). I’m going to see a holistic dentist. And I’m going to act on the belief that the insides of my teeth, like my bones, are alive.
Learning to trust myself is the quest of my life. And now, my teeth are helping me out.