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TMJ Bites... because I can't

For the past year, maybe longer, I've been dealing with TMJD, Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. Basically, that's a really long word for, "Ouch, my jaw hurts." Strangely, though, it doesn't always show up in your jaw. When I first started getting symptoms, I thought it was a raging sinus infection. It wasn't until I took several courses of antibiotics, which did nothing, that I started snooping around on the web for more answers. Even my general doctor was stumped, thought I was just depressed, and started me on a course of antibiotics. When I found a site listing the symptoms of TMJ, a lightbulb went off over my head. Not only did it list many of the symptoms I had, but several that I had all my life and didn't know were problematic. I never realized that everyone didn't have loud clicking and popping in their jaw, and nagging ringing in their ears.

I think it was around January that I first scheduled an appointment with an oral surgeon in my insurance group, which I won't name but rhymes with Pie-Flinger, but they couldn't see me until sometime in March (!), so I tried getting Pie-Flinger to pay for an out of network doctor, with no luck. I knew I needed a splint made (it's kinda like a retainer that you wear over your bottom teeth - it keeps the joint from compressing and prevents you from grinding/clenching your teeth), but had to get it from one of the insurance group's "approved vendors." Oddly, none of Pie-Flinger's "approved vendors" actually made the splints. So I was pretty much stuck waiting for their specialist in Danville, unless I could shell out a grand or so for treatment.

At this point, my symptoms had worsened. I had constant, throbbing headaches, dull ringing in my ears, pain when eating, pain when not eating, trouble sleeping, extreme sensitivity to noise, a horrible grinding noise whenever I opened my mouth, dizzy spells, somewhat limited range of motion when opening, and I couldn't even kiss my husband without pain. I couldn't eat anything that required much chewing, and lived on milkshakes and soup.

I finally got the appointment, and it was confirmed that I had most likely had displaced disc (which I figured all along) and the doc ordered a splint. I got fitted for it about a week or so later, and got it at the end of April. I had to wear the thing 24/7 for a month and go back for another appointment. I waited the month, and didn't have much improvement.

I know *now* that splints are supposed to be checked and adjusted about once a week for the first month, then about once a month after that. Unfortunately, the guys in Danville didn't seem to know that.

So, when I went back a month later, the doc seemed stumped that I wasn't improved (I wasn't expecting to be improved... I had this for 9 months at that point, and wasn't expecting it to go away overnight), and had me go for physical therapy and get an MRI. He acted like since the splint wasn't working, I'd probably need surgery. Then the dude couldn't see me again for a month and a half! So I had the MRI done and was sitting around wondering what was wrong and taking a crap-ton of muscle relaxants, and getting physical therapy that didn't help at all. (Another thing the Danville docs failed to mention: the muscle relaxants should only be taken for 10 days in a row, then stopped for a week or you could get addicted. They had me taking 1/2 pill every 8 hours during the day, and 1 full pill at night for over a month. I was quite a zombie for a while.)

I had to cancel my next appointment with the Danville guy, and when I tried to reschedule, they told me I couldn't be seen until SEPTEMBER! This was in late June. I wrote up a huge bitchy letter that I was about to send, when I got a wicked-bad ear infection and had to go to my regular local doctor. I told her my "tale of woe" and she told me that a new Pie-Flinger oral surgeon was coming to the local hospital, and I could get an appointment with him in 2 weeks. Yay! I could finally find out what was wrong with me!

So (ya bored yet?) I had the appointment, and found out I did have a displaced disc. But instead of adjusting my splint or telling me what I could do to get better, the guy told me, "That's just the way God built you." AAAARRRGGGG! He was really nice about it, so it was one of those things where it doesn't piss you off until AFTER you get home, but he basically said it was caused because I was a "Type A Personality" (HUH?! Me?!) and that I should go for biofeedback for ways to handle stress. Uhh... the problem is, the only stress I've had was that I had to deal with doctors like him that wouldn't help me. And that whole being in constant pain for almost a year. I think part of the problem is that I'm also double jointed, so even though I have this disc problem, I could open my mouth wider than most TMJ people. They seem to equate a wide open mouth with no pain, when instead I was completely dislocating my jaw to open wide and it hurt like a SOB. When I asked about my splint (which at this point had so many bite marks in it, it looked like dog's chew toy), he told me I could either go back to Pie-Flinger in Danville to get it adjusted, or see my local regular dentist. After all I'd been through with Pie-Flinger, I chose my regular dentist.

He's been an absolute doll. He took one look at my splint and told me that it wasn't helping at all in the shape it was in. He ground it down a lot, taking all my bite marks out, and had me try it for a week. The first few days, it felt weird and my teeth were all sore, but after a few days, I noticed that my headaches were greatly improved. Before I saw him, I was taking (at the Pie-Flinger doc's approval) 600mg of Ibuprofen every 6 hours, and after about 5 hours, my head was throbbing so much, I knew it was time for more. I'd even wake up in the middle of the night to take more. Now, I take 400-600mg maybe twice a day. Maybe less, if it's a good day, maybe more if it's a bad one. I still get the occasional migraine-like headaches, ringing in my ears and dizzy spells, but not nearly as much as I did. I'm even getting brave (or is it stupid) and trying to eat more adventurous foods, like a tortilla chip or a cracker. I used to only eat soft foods, like pastas or soups. It's sooo good to be able to eat most foods again, and I'm not losing weight anymore. And that's only after about a month of my dentist's treatment.

But I'm still craving a hoagie.

August, 2003


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