What My Tooth Taught Me About Menstruation
by Lana Friesen
One Thursday morning, I woke up with pretty sharp pain in my tooth. I thought “hmm, maybe I grinded my teeth or hit it yesterday.” I carried on with my day, business as usual, ignoring the pain, hoping it would go away. At night, when my attention was no longer focused on other things, I realized the pain was still there, and it was a worse - so bad I would have trouble sleeping. A quick google search for toothache remedies brought up a myriad of holistic suggestions: mashed garlic, clove oil, etc. While different articles and posts contained different suggestions, they all shared one huge thing in common: they all emphasized the importance of seeing a dentist because the pain is a sign of something wrong.
Being the cycledork that I am, I couldn’t help but think of how drastically different our response is to menstruation. There are all sorts of remedies from marijuana pessaries, hot water bottles, and TEMS machines to steady doses of ibu profen. And yet most often, these recommendations fail to emphasize that the pain you’re treating is a sign of something wrong.
There is an underlying assumption that menstruation is inherently painful, and as menstruators, the best we can hope for is to treat the pain.
Why should menstruation be any different than tooth health? You wouldn’t think that tooth pain is normal and just a part of having teeth. You wouldn't live with it on a regular basis. So why is menstruating any different?
Here is a simple formula when it comes to your body’s health:
Pain = something awry.
When everything is tickety-boo with your body, you shouldn’t feel pain. If you are feeling pain, something is awry, something isn’t quite right. Rather than simply treating the pain, you can treat the cause. With my tooth, I did use garlic and clove to treat the pain, but I also went to a dentist to find out what was happening. And similarly, I encourage anyone experiencing period cramps to do further investigation. Unfortunately, complaining of menstrual cramps to health professionals will usually result in the pain remedies I mentioned above. There are, however, resources for discovering what is causing the issue in the first place.
Lara Briden is my favourite naturopath for menstrual health: she wrote a terrific book called “Period Repair Manual” that everyone should read (not every menstruator, everyone - my guess is that if you don’t menstruate, you love someone who does). From addressing irregular periods to heavy bleeds to acne, you can explore possible causes in her book, as well as learn “how to speak to your doctor” in the last chapter.
Barbara Loomis is one of my favourite structural health gurus. She has a blog and an e-book about womb-care, and she is how I learned about the different ways a uterus can be tilted(retroverted/anteverted/retroflexed/anteflexed), and what I can change in my lifestyle to encourage proper uterus alignment and motility.
Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioners (HRHPs): When I think about the spectrum of work midwives and doulas do (pre-natal to post-natal and even hospice care), I think of how HRHPs are also serving a wide spectrum of needs through their expertise. These Justisse-trained professionals can help investigate what is going on with your period, your ovulation (or anovulation), your fertility, and help you with contraception options.
You can see who is around in your community to help. Find naturopaths HRHPs, physiotherapists who listen to you and trust that you are an authority of your own body. Let us know who you find most helpful in your community!
5th Vital Sign is the initiative to spread the notion that menstruation is actually a fifth vital sign: just as the other four vital signs are significant indicators of overall health, so is menstruation.
I love what Emily Varnam of 5th Vital Sign said in her Fertility Friday podcast interview:
"Your doctor is one resource in your community.” You can add so many more to this list of resources; naturopaths, fertility awareness educators, Arvigo massage practitioners, movement therapists, HRHPs. Nothing beats the feeling of empowerment in having a well-rounded list of resources, and making an informed decision for yourself.
It turns out my tooth pain was something pretty serious. I’m so glad I got it checked out, got some answers, and have a plan for healing and repair.
You can have similar hopes for your period pain.