Posted in Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

Just to See You Smile

If you’ve encountered me in real life, you know that smiling is one of my favorite things to do. I’ll admit I didn’t even realize how often I smile, or how much I enjoy it until this past spring when I had stitches in my mouth for a few days and couldn’t smile. Even my students commented on how sad it was when an entire class passed without a smile on my face. When that class turned into 3 days, they were nearly at their wits’ end. I’m pretty sure I smiled more than double the next 2 days, partially because of my own excitement, but also to reassure them that my smile hadn’t vanished forever.

Now, those of you who are dealing with food/health issues and haven’t been feeling the greatest, your smiles may be weaker and fewer in number these days…but, take it from me, when you reach that turning point on your road to health, the smile will return with a vengeance! However, inevitably such smiles bring us to our favorite place: the dentist’s office. Now this is a topic I’ve referenced and said I’d come back to multiple times…and somehow I never do. Well, today is the day. I’ve had quite a 10-week relationship with the dentist and there is just so much information that needs to be shared. If I can help just one person avoid a gluten-filled dentist visit, I’ll feel like my suffering has not been in vain 🙂

Courtesy of

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up LOVING the dentist. Granted, I think it was in large part due to my perfectionist streak as a child. It was kind of like report card day…the nervous anticipation in the waiting room: will it be another cavity-free visit?? Will the perfect streak continue?? And you walk away with a brand new toothbrush. I mean, really, does it get much better than that when you’re a type-A 9-year-old? Aside from a few sealants, I had a perfect track record when it came to dental health. Now, orthodonture is a different story, but I figure maintaining that perfect track record of dental health while navigating around pounds of metal in your mouth? That takes skill. When my braces finally came off (yes, I went to college with braces on my teeth…I try to forget those days), I ramped up my dental care routine even more. I trekked back up to my dorm room on the 4th floor after breakfast every morning to brush and fluoride rinse. During my 2 years in ACE (when I had no dental insurance), I still scheduled a dental visit/cleaning when I was home on Christmas break and paid out of pocket.

As you can tell, dental hygiene is not something I take lightly. Of course, just a few weeks after my arrival in Baltimore, my health was rapidly in decline and any time I wasn’t at school was spent at doctor’s appointments or lying on couches, so the dentist slipped a little on the priority list.  Still, that February I trudged through the snow to a new dentist. I wasn’t feeling well at all that day, but I still mustered some excitement for the dentist. There’s nothing quite like a good teeth-cleaning in my book! Well, imagine my suprise when I opened my mouth that day and learned that I had not 1, not 2, but 4 cavities. I was shocked. I was devastated. On top of my dizziness, exhaustion, and questionable bloodwork, now we had to add cavities to the mix?? I cried when I got to my car. As devastating as that afternoon was, it wasn’t indelibly sealed in my memory until 5 months later when I sat in my gastroenterologist’s office with my celiac diagnosis and he explained that often times, dental problems (like the ones I had that winter) are the first indicator of celiac in younger patients. He explained that he’s trying to raise awareness among dentists because I should have been sent to his office back in February and by July could have been well on my way to healing rather than the lifeless blob sitting in front of him.

So, point #1: if you, or someone you know, has a similar experience of great teeth which suddenly show significant decay in a short period of time, don’t just brush it off. (Like that pun??) Of course, this also assumes you’ve remained faithful to your dental hygiene regimen and the decay still happened. If you started going to sleep with cupcakes next to your bed for a midnight snack or swore off brushing for a year, then I’d suspect enamel and absorption issues are not to blame. Talk to your dentist. If it’s the same dentist you’ve had, it’s an easy comparison to old x-rays and your chart. If it’s a new dentist, do what I didn’t: call your old dentist and get all your records sent for comparison. My new dentist just assumed I was one of those 20-somethings who relegated tooth care to the bottom of the priority list…and I did nothing to convince her otherwise. I could have saved myself months of misdiagnoses, or at least 5 months of enamel erosion…which for the record, can’t regenerate. (For more information, click here.)

#2: Some toothpastes have gluten in them. Yes, that can make you sick. And of course that will result in more enamel erosion. Talk about a vicious cycle. There is a great summary here of the various brands, but my advice would be this: a) Be wary of Colgate. It’s mentioned in here, but I talked to them myself and the lovely rep told me that though the regular flavor is “apparently gluten-free”, she couldn’t safely verify that for any others. So I personally end to steer clear of Colgate all together; b) Whichever toothpaste you choose, do yourself a favor and double check. A quick email or phone call is well worth your time in the long run. And sometimes it can even be a fun conversation!

I think this was my favorite product phone call to date:
“Is it possible to get the ingredient/allergen list for your Be Adventurous Chocolate mint toothpaste?
It was discontinued so I bought it today for 70% off!

#3: Not all mouthwashes are created equal. Of course by now you know I have a soft spot in my heart for Scope, but Listerine is also a great option. However, the nice Crest representative offered information before I even moved past toothpaste, and told me that both the Pro-Health Rinse and Crest Whitening Rinse contain outside ingredients and may contain gluten!! Again, my advice would be, if you have a product you love (or one that is recommended by your dentist), pick up the phone and check. You have to be especially careful with generic brands: they often contain ingredients from outside suppliers and all kinds of co-mingling can happen. I know, my frugal heart is crying too…but trust me the dental bills later will be far more than the extra $2 for name-brand mouthwash. Deep breath 🙂

Clearly, I love Scope. For many reasons 🙂

#4: Your dental cleaning and fillings might not be safe. This is the doozy. Gluten is in most adhesives (i.e. Elmer’s glue…if you could only have seen me last week at summer school when we used entire bottles to make our own silly putty, the kids thought I was hilarious with my gloves/handwashing, but I was taking no chances) so it makes sense that tooth polish, bonding agents, etc. would also have it. From what my dentist told me, the entire industry has made a shift in the past 5 years away from gluen, and they now get an ingredient list sent with each product, but it’s still best to ask. And if your dentist responds with a laugh when you ask and says, “Honey, I asked if you had any allergies, I meant like latex? I’m not going to feed you bread so gluten isn’t a problem”. Yes, that was a real response from someone who is no longer my dentist. In hindsight, I should have kindly educated her rather than bolt, but those were my early celiac days. Live and learn.

#5: You can be so careful…and you’ll still get burned sometimes. Such is life with celiac. It’s either live in a bubble or always be slightly open to risk. I went to the dentist this week. I love my dental office. I love the dentists, the hygientists, and the x-ray technicians. The receptionist and I greet each other like old friends and swap stories of our respective upcoming wedding plans. They are great people and they know what they’re doing. But while they were applying that numbing gel this week before the Novacain (for yes, yet another cavity…remember what I said about enamel not regenerating? I now have what are called “soft teeth”. All I know is it’s not good.) and when they suctioned, it didn’t all come out and soon I could tell I’d swallowed some (because my entire throat was going numb). I told myself all would be well, even though I kind of knew that was a lie. And it was. I spent some quality time curled up on my bed as my stomach rejected the invader, and after a fitful night attempting to sleep, I woke up the next day with the familiar symptoms of slight contamination: my brain was all foggy, I was irritated by everything and everyone, my face was pale and my heart raced…but the one consolation of knowing what triggered the reaction is knowing that it was a trace enough amount that it shouldn’t escalate. Still it meant a phone call to the doctor and an addition to the file, but fortunately nothing more. Now I’m safe (from the dentist anyway) until February…though considering our wedding will be on the horizon, I may just play it safe and wait an extra month 🙂

In conclusion, please take it from me: before you go to the dentist, do your homework. Talk to your dentist ahead of time. Don’t show up and assume he or she should know everything about every product and about your autoimmune condition. Dentists have an awful lot to learn in just a few years of dental school. It would be like expecting a teacher to be an expert on every single condition a student might walk in with. Just like I would want advanced warning about my students so I can spend time researching and familiarizing myself with the needs of that particular student, the dentist needs the same time to become familiar with your unique needs. Don’t just show up at appointment time expecting quick answers to your questions.

I know it sounds terrifying, but don’t be too nervous. It’s a lot, yes, but it’s totally worth it…just to see you smile 🙂

We love to smile…smiling is our favorite! 🙂

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