Dentistry, tooth meat and oral health: Your pain is nothing to me


Lately I have had a number of conversations about dentistry and the whole fun tooth-and-gums thing. Maybe I think about this more than many thanks to my childhood spent in dentist chairs and the mouthful of problems I have always had. Probably for these reasons I am not scared of dentists or the frightening-sounding procedures they want to do. Everyone I know seems terrified of the ominous “root canal”, but for me, the root canals I’ve had have provided nothing but relief, even if getting one is not the most comfortable thing ever.

One of the free online courses I signed up for and never actually participated in was something called Intro to Dentistry. Why would I sign up for this? To practice DIY dentistry in my barn? Still, I can’t explain why these things are so fascinating to me. I don’t literally want to dig around in people’s mouths, but I love the idea of knowing about the various teeth and teeth ailments that afflict people.

Always want to know too many different things – ever the dilettante. After talking with someone about his mouth/gum problem and how much pain he was in, I came back to the question of whether men and women feel pain differently. I contemplate often how little pain men seem to be able to withstand comparatively speaking – and I don’t know if it is physiological (they feel pain differently, they feel different kinds of pain differently) or psychological (they feel more compelled to complain about it – and that is not always true but usually is – or what?). Just when I think maybe they can’t handle pain, they volunteer themselves to participate in a boxing match – which must be painful in its own way. But then adrenaline kicks in and they must not feel it – or feel it in the same way as they feel a toothache. A toothache is a singular misery, but the rush, excitement, testosterone, adrenaline,

But if this is true that men are just reporting such agony and pain, how can it also be true that women report feeling more intense pain than men? Not that any of this is definitive – the science of it is pretty much non-existent and can be influenced by so many factors – also the science in the cited article is based a lot on self-reported perceptions of pain.

Hard to say for sure, but the science seems to say that women are more sensitive to pain – but not necessarily doing anything about it or being vocal about it. I suppose it depends – but in my experience, the women who complain most about pain are usually hypochondriacs (or seem to be).

“…male and female bodies don’t process pain the same way. If a man and a woman each place their hands on a hot stove, different parts of their brains will activate. In 2003, researchers at UCLA discovered that the cognitive, or analytic, region of the male brain lights up, while the female limbic system, the brain’s emotional headquarters, springs into action

So does that emotionally charged limbic response mean that women are merely making a louder fuss than men over the same amount of pain? Not quite.”

I just have trouble matching up how most women I know behave when in pain against how much pain they report being in and how men behave when in what seems like minor pain. Not only are women perhaps in more intense pain, they are certainly reticent and stoic about it. It seems. I know I am making generalizations and have no qualifications for saying a word about any of these matters, really.

What I am a bit more qualified to throw my irritation around about, though, is words. And one word that has haunted me since I first arrived in Norway is the word tannkjøtt – literally “tooth meat”. Yes, this refers to the gums. But come on – tooth meat?! I remember just having arrived in Norway, feeling completely upside-down and out of place, staying at a friend’s house, turning on the tv and understanding barely a word of Norwegian, and hearing this one improbable word I did pick out immediately. A commercial for toothpaste or something, a confident dentist coming on the screen blabbing away about “tannkjøtt” health.