One of the many joys of Sjogren's Syndrome is the inevitable dental decay. This is because for us Sjoggies saliva production is drastically reduced causing a whole host of subsequent problems the most distressing of which is the effect on your pearly whites.
Saliva generally makes me think of poor old Pavlov's dog, conditioned to drool at the sound of a bell, but it turns out that saliva is, in fact, the elixir for good dental health. It's not just dribble, I'll have you know, it does a whole load more than just helping you to chew, taste and swallow. Saliva contains powerful antibacterial properties that help to clean your teeth from food debris and fight against invading hordes of microbes as well as containing proteins and minerals to protect both tooth enamel and gums. Oral bacteria can double their numbers every twenty minutes under 'ideal conditions' (ideal conditions being dry mouth, constant snacking and a predilection for sweet things) so saliva is an essential shield.
The average person produces 2-4 pints of saliva per day - I'll say that again, 2-4 pints...a day!! Being so saliva-challenged, I've lost count of how many hours of torturous root canal I have endured in my desert battle to save my teeth so when I was faced with the option to either try to save yet another badly decayed tooth (with small chance of success) or to have it extracted, I chose the latter.
I feel sorry for dentists - people always saying how much they hate them! I have managed to find that very rare gem - a good NHS dentist willing to take on new (troublesome) patients. When D Day came around I was so pleased with myself for managing to sit calmly in the chair while in my head I was freaking out. I really wanted a 'good job little buddy' acknowledgement and a sticker at the end as a medal for my bravery. I'm not going to lie it was pretty gruesome but, incredibly, it was not really painful...until...around 48 hours later I began to experience the worst kind of agony imaginable - right up there with childbirth and gallstones. I had developed the post extraction complication of 'dry socket' - what a delightful medical term that is. I'll spare you the full details other than to say that this is another name for what is essentially a failure of the gum to clot and heal properly, leaving exposed bone and nerve endings...OUCH!
Days and nights blurred into a kind of gummy madness with me pacing around a darkened room shovelling down various painkillers every four hours until I began to fret about liver damage as well. Typically, the worst of it peaked over the weekend when I considered, and then dismissed, a trip to A&E. First thing Monday I called the dentist and although the treatment was, in the ten minutes it took, excrutiating, the relief afterwards came quickly. I'm still recovering and - though not completely pain free - the relief at the moment from the total torment is amazing. I don't think I have a very high pain threshold but I was reassured to hear that many grown men have been known to weep from 'dry socket'; one man, a boxer no less, even called an ambulance in the middle of the night and ran, half dressed, out into road and into the arms of the attending paramedics, pleading hysterically for morphine!
One thing this little trauma has made me is truly thankful. I'm thankful for our wonderful NHS and thankful for skilled health professionals. I think of all those people who do not have access to the medical aid and supplies that they desperately need, those alone with no support and those living day in day out with chronic pain. How lucky we are. How lucky I am.
You might 'socket to me' Sjogren's but 'spit happens' and I'm determined not to be 'down in the mouth'!