I have a dental phobia. Either I was orally tortured in a previous life, or I am scarred from the scary, old guy my mom took me to when I was a kid. Either way, I would rather give birth in a field than have a cavity filled. I read somewhere that people who take care of their teeth live longer. Since these days, it feels as if my life is only going to start when the twins hit college, I figured I should do all I can to prolong the inevitable. In May, I tackled my fear and addressed my oral hygiene. What a mistake. I should’ve gotten a job in Colonial Williamsburg and let my teeth rot out of my head. Since then, I have had a constant, dull throbbing on the left side of my face. I can’t chew on that side and I am once again, sleeping with headgear – and I thought my adolescent orthodontia days were over. I am inclined to blame satan … I mean the dentist, but there is probably more to it.
1. TMJ as used to describe pain or clicking in the jaw or face, is actually misused. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint and everyone has two. They are located directly below and in front of the ears and anatomically join your jaw bone (mandible) to your skull. The joint is made up of bone, muscle, ligaments, nerves, tendons and connective tissue.
2. The terms TMJ disorders or TMJ syndrome are used to more accurately describe any acute or chronic inflammation of the temporomandibular joint. But, who the heck cares what you call it, it really hurts.
3. The cause of TMJ inflammation is often hard to discern. Sometimes, malalignment of the occlusal surfaces of teeth results from improper dental work (ah ha!!). The grinding of teeth or unusual jaw movements during sleep is a common culprit. Trauma, excessive gum chewing (was anyone a valley girl in the 80s?), as well as any disorder like arthritis that affects joints can cause TMJD. Like back pain, TMJ pain has been blamed on stress. I’d rather blame the dentist – less onus on me.
4. The symptoms of TMJD are pain with chewing, a popping sound when the mouth is opened, headache and earache in the morning, dull facial pain, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, dizziness and neck pain. Check, check, check. I have all of these. No wonder it seems my kids are getting more annoying and wine bottles are getting smaller.
5. The treatment for TMJD is really annoying because it isn’t like treatment for an ear infection. There is no pill you can take. Treatment is approached from several different angles. Medications, like NSAIDs, steroids, muscle relaxants and antidepressants are used with some success. Behavioral modification is key to relaxing the muscles of the jaw. Mouth guards are used to prevent nighttime grinding. More severe cases require surgical intervention. The good news is that some patients benefit from botox. Maybe one part of my face will be wrinkle-free.
This entry is fairly depressing for me. I really want someone to wave a magic wand and make me better. I don’t want to wear mouth guards, take antidepressants, decrease my stress, eat soft foods and keep my mouth shut. Maybe I’ll just have to live with the pain. At least I have an excuse to be depressed, grouchy and surrounded by McDonald’s chocolate milk shakes – it is like being pregnant all over again.