Sometimes one does wonder why we do things in our life professions. Then you receive a letter that makes you realize you can make a difference. Chronic pain is a terrible thing to have to live with and this is a very touching story and made our day in the office.
My TMD story
My issues with TMD began in high school. My jaw would click loudly. After an extremely stressful freshman year away at college, I had my first experience with locking. This would have been in winter 1994-95. I couldn’t open my jaw very far, and the school health facility gave me some muscle relaxants and told me to rub Ben Gay on it. I ate a LOT of oatmeal and eventually it must have gone back to normal. That winter of ’96 I had my wisdom teeth removed.
I always had soreness and issues with opening wide at the dentist. I tried various sleep guards from 2 different dentists to combat the excessive grinding that was making my teeth sensitive and my muscles so tight and sore. After my 2nd baby was born, I stopped wearing my night guard regularly because I was up in the middle of the night a lot. When I tried to start wearing it again, I would be VERY sore and tight in the morning when I woke up, and sometimes I would have moments of locking. I didn’t think too much of it, I could move my mandible around in various positions to kind of un-hinge the catch. It always seemed to go back. At some point in the fall of 2011 I found I could no longer get it to go back, and I was suddenly stuck with a bite of only about 18-20 mm opening, less than 2 finger widths. On top of not being able to fit food into my mouth, I was also in a LOT of pain and on soft diet since any kind of chewing was pretty painful. My regular dentist recommended me to an Oral & Maxillofacial surgeon in the area. He took an x-ray and basically said I’d probably need surgery, but recommended me to a “TMJ specialist” in the area. This person also called himself a “head and neck pain specialist.” After an initial consult, he sent me out to get a MRI. At this point, I was in a lot of pain, getting pretty depressed about eating soft/liquid diet, constant migraines, and no end in sight. We tried a week of muscle relaxants and steroids, but I had no change in opening with this treatment. After looking at my MRI, he proclaimed I was going to need surgery and that any conservative approach would be a waste of my time and money. He just happened to have the perfect guy, and I would have to fly to Florida for the consult and eventual surgery. I was crying when I left that appointment.
So I took to the internet. I felt I needed to know that I had exhausted all non-invasive treatments before I let myself get operated on and forever change my joint with scar tissue, etc. Through a TMJ health board forum (http://www.healthboards.com/boards/tmj-disorder-temporomandibular-joint/) I found a recommendation for Dr. Martin and lots of interesting posts on Neuromuscular Dentistry and TENS treatment. At this point I was looking for some relief of my pain and symptoms even just to buy myself some time until my baby was a little older and I could see leaving him for a week to get surgery if I needed it. I was extremely dubious that my lock would somehow magically unlock itself, but was willing to try anything to avoid surgery.
Treatments with Dr. Martin started with TENS therapy. We could see that I had a little bit more opening after the TENSING, so this was promising. I was fitted with a fancy appliance and within a few short weeks I was in less pain. I then started going to Physical Therapy, where I did some short exercises, and they used an ultrasound on my joint. It was very scary to have someone manually manipulate my jaw, and at first it did more harm than good. Once we realized this was going to be a slower approach, I settled into my exercises and the change happened gradually. Each week I would get 2 or 3 or 4 more millimeters to my opening. Toward the end I had some tongue depressor sticks that I could put between my teeth and gradually stretch the opening at my own speed. I think it was about 3 months and I was up to 35 millimeters or so! (Dr. Martin, you probably have more accurate dates in your file).
The change was so gradual I hardly noticed it happening. I wore the appliance 24/7, and once I got used to eating and talking with it I hardly noticed it. The pain became less and less. Before I knew it I was eating things like burgers that wouldn’t have fit in my mouth before, AND I was eating them relatively painlessly! The headaches were pretty much gone as well. It has now been 8 months since I got my appliance, and as far as TMD symptoms I would say I’m 85% recovered. My opening is up to 41 millimeters and except for occasional muscle soreness, I am pain free. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100%, since I will probably always avoid things like bagels and hard foods, but my overall feeling and mood is immeasurably improved. I am at a point now where I would never consider surgery and would be happy to live at this level of recovery.
My husband and I are so grateful to Dr. Martin and his wonderful staff for helping us. Not to sound too cheesy, but you guys have given me my life back.
All the best!