Why chocolate is no laughing matter
Posted on 8 January 2013 by Melody Clarke
‘Ow,’ I say as he pokes me in my temporomandibular joints.
‘Aha,’ he says. ‘It hurts because you grind your teeth. Are you under a lot of stress at the moment?’
What is this? Psycho-dentistry? How can he tell? Within the next 10 minutes he tells me about a condition I never knew I had, and proposes a treatment — a plastic mouth guard that I will have to wear forever.
My dentist is a genius. He is treating me for a condition I never knew existed. I am happy, because he has discovered it and there is something he can do about it. He is happy as I am paying him a fortune. The plastic mouth guard makes me gag, and I can’t speak properly when I’m wearing it.
The following year there is more bad news. More projects, more postgraduate exams, and my chocolate consumption has rocketed. I ate Smarties through my A-levels, Milky Bars through my degree, and have acquired a taste for Divine milk chocolate in recent years.
I should be an obese diabetic. But I’m not. I’m the daughter of stick-insect parents with skinny genes. I dread to think about the patency of my coronary arteries, but sometimes I can’t stop myself and sometimes it’s the only way to get me through the day.
And no one is going to complain about my sugar consumption. It’s not alcohol or heroin. No one is going to report me to the GMC because I can’t get through a clinic without scoffing 100 grams of Dairy Milk. But I know that I am damaging my own body.
‘Look me in the eye and tell me honestly, are you a sugar eater?’
I’m back at the dentist again for an emergency appointment.
‘It hurts because you’ve got a great big hole in it.’
‘Just take it out,’ I plead.
One of my teeth grew down at a funny angle, and the triangular gap has been impossible to clean. I’d asked him to take it out long before the cavity appeared.
But the worst news is yet to come. The pain of the cavity masked another problem.
‘You’ve got a crack in the tooth,’ he says. ‘It’s caused by grinding. You must wear the mouth guard.’
The effects of my lifestyle and work-related stress are having a deleterious effect on my dental health. I am paying the price of comfort eating, a chocolate bar here and there to keep me going and continual grazing over textbooks and medical journals.
It’s natural for medics to put others’ needs before their own.
I’m sure I am not the only person who doesn’t look after themselves very well. But no one is going to help me; no one is going to stop me from working because of this. My mum isn’t even going to nag me because I am getting fat.
Yet these events have been my warning shot. I have to acknowledge that I can’t go on like this. To do a good job of looking after other people, I know that I need to start looking after myself.
Melody Clarke is a specialty trainee