Thursday, June 10, 2010


The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is that nifty little joint that keeps your jaw together.

Mine has a lot of problems.

TMJ Syndrome or Disorder (often just called TMJ) spans many different types of jaw problems, all of which revolve around the Temporomandibular Joint. It can range from swelling of the joint to dislocation or misalignment of the jaw.

The left side of my jaw happens to be misaligned, and occasionally dislocates. It also pops and clicks and is all around pretty unstable.

It's also often in a lot of pain.
Between one to six times a day, I'll feel a dull pain start in my lower jaw close to the joint. Sometimes it stays just like that, a dull aching pain that goes away quickly. More often than not, however, the pain escalates to a severe level, sometimes so bad that my mouth starts salivating, preparing to vomit from the pain. It doesn't just stay at my jaw, it often travels and begins hurting my sinuses and my ear. I become sensitive to sound, and sometimes light. My forehead and eyes may begin to hurt, and I'm clutching my face in pain. Sometimes it even dislocates and gets stuck. Sometimes I can remedy it just by changing gravity's pull, but other times I have to painfully pop it back into place Xena style.

Only occasionally do I do something to provoke it (eat something crunchy, chew gum, etc.); often times, it starts hurting on it's own. It often wakes me up a mere few hours after I've gone to sleep. I've had the misalignment and popping and locking and clicking for a while now, but only about six months or so ago did it start hurting like this.

Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and aleve seem to help the most, but sometimes I'll go up to an hour or more without relief; even with these OTC meds, I have to wait for them to kick in - if they kick in. Sometimes heat helps, sometimes ice helps, sometimes neither helps, or other times I have to mix and match until I get a good combination.

Not everyone experiences these symptoms. My one friend has similar problems, but her jaw muscles will occasionally ache if she eats steak or chews gum.

I don't have medical or dental insurance, so I can't afford to talk to a doctor about it. There don't seem to be any over the counter mouth-guards I can use (I don't have a problem with grinding my teeth, but all of the mouth guards I've seen say "don't use if you have TMJ Syndrome.) One friend told me she used to have headgear for her TMJ; another friend told me that his doctor wants to break his jaw in order to realign it. However, without being able to afford a doctor, my only method of relief is to try to stick to softer foods, OTC anti-inflammatories, reducing stress, and ice/heat - and that doesn't seem to be doing much good.

The way my TMJ Syndrome has developed classifies it as a chronic illness. I am chronically in pain - my jaw acts up between one to six times a day. Today, it woke me up around 7AM. Generally when it wakes me up, I can take a few ibuprofen and fall back asleep. Around 3PM or so it was mild pain, but some ice helped it. I had a couple mini-flare ups which I quickly countered with ibuprofen, but a really bad flare-up has kept me up late tonight, spending the last hour using both a heat-pack and an ice-pack to try and hit the right combination to make it feel better. Laying on my bed at 3AM with my face covered in heat and ice packs moaning in pain is not how I used to spend Wednesday nights. It happens all the time when I'm at work, and I can't sit down for an hour until it goes away - I just have to work through it. My friends, family, and coworkers don't really seem to understand what's going on, many think I'm just overreacting or that I can't handle pain very well.

Also, all studies show that sufferers of chronic pain are exponentially more likely to begin suffering from clinical depression. I've been really down the past couple weeks, and in doing more research on TMJ came across an article that spoke about TMJ Sufferers and the likelihood of developing not only depression, but higher pain sensitivity.

Luckily I've found a decent website that has a bunch of links for help and recipes for soft foods and ideas for how to maintain my problems. Despite it's poor aesthetic quality and lovey-dovey hippie undertone, has a lot of neat and valuable information.

I'm likely going to be living with this for the rest of my life... but I'm hoping that as time goes on I'll be better at managing it and not getting discouraged. I just want other people to understand what I'm going through, especially since I have this habit of pretending like I'm a-okay, even when I think I'm about to throw up with how much it hurts.