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How the Dentist Solved My Medical Mystery, or, How to End a Good Plot

How the Dentist Solved My Medical Mystery, or, How to End a Good Plot

*Check out my book review of Golden Boy on the Burlesque Press Variety Show!*

I make weird, machine-like noises in my sleep. My boyfriend has recorded me on his i-phone. It’s a low, groaning hum, sort of like the noise an old refrigerator makes, and I go on for ages without stopping. It’s never bothered me, but it keeps Paul up at night, which I guess means I can’t really complain about him stealing the covers.

I also get headaches sometimes. I’ve been trying for years to figure out the cause and solution. Are they migraines or sinus related? Are they, as I thought at one point, related to my “third eye”? Are they caused by alcohol or stress or sunshine or barometric pressure or dehydration or a combination of all of these things and more? I’m not sure. But I know taking over-the-counter or prescription medication doesn’t make them go away. Doesn’t diminish them at all, really. They’re stubborn.

At the risk of making me sound like an old lady bitching about her medical problems, I will tell you one more bodily issue of mine: indigestion and acid reflux, or, as I recently heard someone refer to it as, my “gird.” It seems unfair to me that I struggle with my “gird” because I’m not overweight, I rarely eat fatty, spicy foods, I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t eat big meals late at night. I’ve also cut onions and garlic out of my diet, and when I drink alcohol these days it’s usually one glass, or an absolute max of two. And still, the indigestion continues…

For years I’ve been telling doctors about my headaches and heartburn and asking for their advice on how to prevent and treat them. Often they seem like they want to roll their eyes at me. After all, I’m relatively young and healthy, and my concerns are minor and not really life-threatening. It often seems like the doctors want to say, “Are you for real? Take some Pepcid, pop a few of these painkillers, and get out of my office. I’ve got people with more serious problems to deal with.”

I saw a doctor in DC a few years ago who actually sighed when I pulled out a handwritten list of questions I wanted to ask her. “OK,” she said, glancing at the clock on her wall. “What’s on your list?”

I asked her how to prevent my heartburn. “Stop eating fatty, spicy foods,” she said.

“I don’t eat those to begin with.”

“OK. Stop eating onions, garlic, pineapple, chocolate. Stop drinking alcohol, coffee, tea, orange juice, cranberry juice.”

“Wait a minute. I have to stop eating chocolate and drinking tea?” The fatty and spicy foods I could live without, but chocolate?!

She shrugged. “Those are common triggers.” She then recommended I take Zantac, wrote me a prescription for some migraine medication, and practically pushed me out the door.

Give up chocolate?  Here's what I say to that!

Give up chocolate? Here’s what I say to that!

The other morning I woke up with a headache.

“You were making your noises again last night,” Paul told me.

“Oh. Sorry about that.” I went to the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal…which gave me indigestion. Was I going to have to add Museli and almond millk to my list of trigger foods?!

“I’m excited. I have a dentist appointment today!” I told Paul. I love going to the dentist. They always praise me on my excellent oral hygiene.

And, in some ways, this day was no exception. “No cavities!” the dentist reported. “Your teeth and gums are very healthy.”

“Great,” I said, thinking that was it.

But then the doctor started talking to me about my narrow palate, my open bite, and my mismatched teeth due to some weird, childhood extractions.

“Oh, I know. I have a small mouth and a bad bite,” I said.  I used to work for an orthodontist.  I’m fully aware of my less-than-perfect teeth.

“Do you make noises in your sleep?” the dentist asked.

“Uh, yeah, actually I do.” I demonstrated the machine noises for him.

He nodded. “Do you get headaches?”

“Yeah, I do,” I said. “But I always thought they were stress related. Not related to my bite.” Although, come to think of it, I do sometimes find myself clenching my jaws in the night.

The dentist made a note on his chart. “Do you suffer from heartburn? Indigestion?”

“Yeah, actually I do.” How did the dentist know?  This was getting eerie.

Turns out, the dentist thinks all my issues are related to a sleep disorder caused by my teeth. His suspicion is this: Because of my narrow palate, when I sleep my tongue slips into the back of my throat which obstructs my airwaves, causing the machine noises. The lack of oxygen and my disrupted sleep cycle puts my body into a state of stress, which triggers headaches, and the blockage of my throat all night causes heartburn. I also probably clench my jaw and grind on my poorly-matched teeth, which leads to more headaches.

It all makes sense!

I was an orthodontic assistant for 2.5 years.  Here I am-- second row.

I was an orthodontic assistant for 2.5 years. Here I am– second row.

I was recently reading about how the climax of a good story should be logical and inevitable, and yet surprising to the reader. It must strike them as the most natural conclusion – in hindsight it seems like it couldn’t have been any other way – and yet they should not have been able to see it coming.

I sort of feel like that’s what’s happening to me right now.

I’ve been gathering clues for years. In fact, I now remember that when my mom came to visit me in DC a few years ago, she not only reported the machine noises but also said I seemed to be gasping for breath in my sleep. Yet another red flag for a sleep disorder. And yet, I didn’t put it all together.

Just like getting to the end of a really good mystery novel, I’m sort of elated at this possible revelation. It’s all connected!  I really hope the dentist’s suspicion is true. If it is, I can wear an appliance while I sleep that will put an end to my machine noises, my headaches, and my heartburn.

I take the sleep test tomorrow night, and then I’ll know for sure. I’m crossing my fingers that the story of my medical issues is about to come to an end.

I love my teeth, but they may be the cause of all my problems!

I love my teeth, but they may be the cause of all my problems!

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

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