About a year after I got a root canal on my back bottom left molar (which was sometime around 2008 or so), I started getting a pain in my right jaw sometimes when I ate. It wasn’t all the time, and it wasn’t always with the same thing being eaten, it wasn’t always at dinner or always at breakfast, and it was more when my teeth were moving away from each other than when coming together. It was really, really hard to explain to my dentist at the time (who was new to owning an office, as he had just bought it from the man who had been my dentist for years).
He listened to me feebly try to explain when it was happening (feeble because I was afraid to talk to him because DENTIST and feeble because it wasn’t conforming to standard easy-to-describe pain rules), and pretty much scoffed when I was having trouble telling him it was “always when” — because it WASN’T “always when.” The consensus, when nothing was found on an x-ray, was that it was all in my head.
Fuck you, newly graduated Dentist Man.
After about another year, I found a new chiropractor (my chiropractor had steadily been getting both weirder and harder to get ahold of) and in talking to him I explained the frustration I was having with my jaw; frustration at pain (at this point I was pretty much only chewing on my left side, as the pain on the right was electric and shooting and surprising and quite hurty) and also frustration at not being able to describe it very well but how I was pretty certain it wasn’t all in my head. Well, it was literally IN MY HEAD because that’s where my jaw is, but that I was sure the pain was real, if fleeting and unpredictable.
TMJ, he said, after asking a few questions and talking more about what I felt and when. Classic symptoms of TMJ/TMD, which included electric pain and difficulty chewing and pain around the ear and ringing in the ear and aching facial pain. I knew I was a jaw clencher, when I tune in I quite often find my jaw clenched.
He suggested some light chiropractic work on the jaw, massage for the muscles around the neck and head, and that I find a new dentist…. which took about three years, because, DENTIST. My GP at the time also confirmed this diagnosis, and suggested the same things.
Finally late last year, 2014, the pain was becoming unmanageable. I was in pain almost all the time – used to it, even, and who the fuck should live that way? – and I was getting tired of it. Plus I was spending a lot of money on Advil and Advil PM. I’d been sensitive to cold on that side for a year or two, but was also suddenly becoming sensitive to heat as well, making coffee even less my friend.
My friend Mitzi popped up in to my life again; she had been my hygienist at the original dentist, and had been for something like 14 years. I had to take Valium at first, but after a few years grew to like and trust her so much that I didn’t need to take Valium any more to see her (insert horror story of her leaving to go to another job and a string of new hygienists every time I went to the dentist, and fighting them for Valium – practically needing Valium to call them to ask for Valium, but that’s another long story). Mitzi heard, where she works, a name that sounded familiar. She poked her head over the cubby wall and said, “Haldeman? Do you know Lore?” and it turned out she was talking to my Uncle Joe! He said that she said hello, and I reached out to her on Facebook and was all, “are you someone I CAN COME SEE?!?!?!?!” and not only was she, but she recommended a very nice dentist at her practice who primarily dealt with TMJ.
So I went to Mitzi for a cleaning, and I went to the dentist she recommended for a checkup, and we talked about my TMJ. Until I could get a night guard (I kept balking at the price) she said to be conscious of where my teeth were during the day. That as someone who routinely clenched their teeth, I should make an effort to keep my teeth at least a tongue’s width apart while awake.
So I practiced that, and other than being aware of my teeth and jaw more than ever, the only change I noticed was that there was a nerve that hurt. I started taking even more Advil, because that’s what the Interwebs told me was the best OTC medicine for nerve pain. I thought a nerve was being squished, and that’s why it hurt. Or it was being unsquished, because I was opening my jaw more, rather. I could tell it was a nerve because it went from my tooth that was bothering me to the upper middle roof of my mouth and around the jaw to the middle of my chin, where it stopped. I discussed this new pain with my new dentist, who took more x-rays but didn’t see anything, so she said that most likely it was a nerve being released after years of being compressed, and the pain was the nerve waking up.
HAHAHAHAHAHA oh you sweet summer child.
As much as I hate to leave you in the lurch, here, I’m writing this out and my word count is already 1600 (including the four paragraphs I have written after this, that I’m about to start a new post with), and I still have much more to say… so I’m going to break this up into two posts of about 1000 words each.
Stay tuned for how I figured out my tooth was broken, a hilariously painful dinner scene, and the wrap-up of the story that first has about four “but wait! there’s more!” instances.
More on Thursday, y’all! I promise! This Thursday, even! Pinky swear!