Columnists > Voices
Krieg Barrie

The mouth is a country

Faith & Inspiration | When we fail to take up our God-given role in the body, others will feel the effect

Issue: "2013 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 14, 2013

I am getting my education at a Philadelphia dental school clinic. I will not be receiving my D.D.S. at the end, but expect soon to be as versed in the field as the Tank Gang members in Finding Nemo. Remember how they crowd at the chair-side end of the aquarium when Dr. Sherman has a patient?

Deb (humbug): What have we got?

Peach (starfish): Root canal, and by the looks of those X-rays, it’s not going to be pretty. [The patient screams as the dentist drills.]

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Bloat (puffer fish): Rubber dam and clamper installed?

Peach: Yup.

Gurgle (royal gramma): What did he use to open?

Peach: A Gator-Glidden drill. He seems to be favoring that one lately.

Deb [with a sigh]: I can’t see, Flo.

Peach: Now he’s using the Schilder technique.

Bloat: Ooh, he’s using a Hedstrom file.

Gurgle: That’s not a Hedstrom file.

Bloat: It has a teardrop cross section; clearly it’s a Hedstrom.

Gurgle: No, no, K-FLEX.

Bloat: Hedstrom!

Gurgle: K-flex!

I have learned that the mouth is a country, with distinct topographies of intense fascination to perfectionistic-tending 23-year-old dental students. Above all, I have learned that the mouth is an ecosystem where the condition of every part impacts the condition of every other. What happens in the maxilla does not stay in the maxilla; it reverberates in the mandibular. Neglect of an anterior cuspid will be paid in a bill sent to the posterior molar. 

This I did not know when I naïvely arrived to plug a gap in my smile and was apprised that my decade of neglect of an out-of-sight extraction had over time set in motion a wholesale migration and extrusion of upper left bicuspids and put extra stress on the centrals. Drifting teeth are always at risk of moving cusps into a damaging lateral excursive pathway. Braces will be needed: age 62.

Sometimes, of course, a sinus problem plus excessive swallowing may result in abnormal outward lateral pressure from the tongue to the teeth, creating temporary orthodontic pressure and movement outward. This shift may place the lingual cusp in harm’s way, endangering tooth-to-tooth forces. At this point I would not be surprised if unusually strong bilateral opposing vector forces are what caused the ligaments connecting my teeth to the bone to be stretched and chronically inflamed. I hate it when that happens.

You see why this reminds me of the Bible. Paul writes of “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. … To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:4-10).

This is the revealed church ecosystem—but it only works well if we each find out (by trying, usually) which of these gifts each of us has been given, and use that one. Otherwise, a situation similar to Sprained Tooth Syndrome will occur. STS may have started as trauma from a popcorn seed, but because it went uncaught in the early stages, periodontal ligament damage and swelling ensued: The tooth then supra-erupted into an undesirable position that then prolonged the inflammation. 

Likewise, Mrs. Jones had an evident tendency to flirtation in the fellowship room after the worship service. Mrs. McGillicutty noticed it, but rather than using her gift of “distinguishing between spirits” and taking her sister aside, she chose to keep to herself. In addition, because Mrs. Roberts keeps her counseling “gift of wisdom” under a bushel basket, Mrs. McGillicutty was not aware of any church members to whom she could direct Mrs. Jones for counseling. The whole dysfunction came to light only when a startling announcement was made from the pulpit that Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith would be leaving the church for undisclosed reasons.

The Bible says to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Let the child of God do so. It isn’t even so much for yourself as for the lateral incisor sitting across the nave from you.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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