Temporomandibular Joint…and surgery on Tuesday

So, how do I start?  Well, I’ll start where IT started.  In May my jaw suddenly, and without warning, refused to open when I was eating lunch with my colleagues.  No, I wasn’t gnawing on taffee or chomping on peanuts, I was eating a fish taco- relatively soft with easy give when chewing.  I could barely open my mouth a fraction of an inch without feeling a clamping on the left side of my face.  In a tizzy I went to the campus clinic, and the nurse suggested I put ice on my jaw and take some sort of anti-inflammatory (read: ibuprofin).  I went home and did that and, several hours after it happened, I could move my jaw with some stiffness and pain.  In a few days, I was back to normal.

Then, in the middle of the night in August, I woke up to my jaw being locked again.  I got up, iced it, took some ibuprofin, and went to sleep when I was able to move my jaw more.  The next day it was still a little sore and chewing was difficult.  And day after that was the same.  And the day after that. And after that. And after that. For a week.  With constant ice and ibuprofin I was still in a good deal of facial/neck pain and I couldn’t chew without my jaw getting stiff (left side again) and aching tremendously.  One night the pain was so severe I felt like I was suffocating.  The next day I went back to the clinic and I was referred to an oral surgeon for TMJ.

TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint.  This is the hinge and sliding joint where your jaw bone connects to your skull and, suprisingly, there’s a lot going on there.  A small disc takes the impact of chewing, talking, and general mouth movements, and several muscles like to hang around there too.  It seemed as though something in that complicated area had gone awry.  Anyway, I was perscribed a large dose of Naproxen (aleve) to help with the pain.  This worked for a while, until I began having side effects.

Apparently stomach problems, including heartburn and indigestion, can be a side effect to Naproxen that requires you stop taking it.  In the middle of the night I woke to a burning pain near my sternum.  The next morning it happened again.  This pain was deblitating and with some quick googling I found out this pain was associated with Naproxen use.  I called the physician and she agreed I should stop taking it immediately.  This was a few weeks ago and I am still scared to eat tomatoes (a common cause for heartburn) and I can’t eat too late at night.  After this craziness, I called the dental school (to which I was refered) to have my appointment moved up.

So, I went to the oral surgeon and they measured my mouth opening, palpitated my face, took some Xrays and poked and prodded…thank God for insurance… and they determined that the little disc I was talking about, well, it seemed to have slipped out of place and cause all kinds of disfunction in my jaw.  They scheduled me for a lavage/atherocentesis (a procedure of flushing out the joint, removing any adhesions, and working the disc back in- it requires two needles and is minimally invasive)…in three weeks.  In the meantime I had lost 11lb in the matter of weeks, been severly limited in my diet, in constant discomfort, and depression over all of it was beginning to set in.

Now finally….FINALLY… the surgery is Tuesday (5 days).  While I had been wishing the day to come I am now very nervous.  My biggest concern is that it won’t work.  While most patients in this scenario, no history of TMJ, sudden jaw locking, good occlusion (bite. I’ve had braces in the past) etc see great success with the procedure, I’m so scared that it isn’t going to help.  This constant pain and being unable to enjoy the food I used to love so much is heartbreaking for me.  It may seem trite and silly to those who haven’t been through it but…imagine a toothache that never stops and you can only eat liquids.  Yeah, it isn’t any fun.

Prayers and good vibes appreciated.  INSHALLAH I’ll be back to normal by the week after my surgery.

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