Thursday, January 17, 2013

The toils of a faulty jaw

Greetings readers! Today I'm going to write about my TMJ problems (i.e. my gum chewing disorder.) While I allude to this in jest, I must say that my TMJ problems are actually the cause or a result of a number of the current health problems I endure (migraines, clenching, sleeping problems.) Hopefully anyone reading this that also has TMJ can relate/understand.

Basically TMJ is a blanket-term for issues of jaw opening/closing. Typically the problem is either caused my constriction/over-exertion/inflammation of the masseter muscle (in milder cases of TMJ) and/or issues of the actual jaw joint (hence the name temporo-mandibular joint located adjacent to the ear and serving as the junction between the jaw and skull.)

I was first diagnosed a few years back by an ENT when I went to have some ear pain checked out. It was found that my jaw clicks and is not aligned adequately and was probably the result of 1. clenching at night and 2. excessive gum chewing. I was instructed to not chew gum (prior to this diagnosis I was an avid gum chewer chewing probably close to 4-6 hours a day for years since I got my braces off in 8th grade.) Additionally I was told to avoid certain hard or chewy foods (bagels, peanut brittle etc...) and was also advised to get a bite guard (occlusal guard) to wear at night. While I've more-or-less kept close to abiding to those restrictions (the gum is where I slip and I'll try to keep the "chewing" to a minimum though) what happens at night while asleep is a different story. Depending on my fatigue level I'll still clench vigorously even with the guard (the guard is really there to prevent further damage of teeth but it does nothing to prevent clenching.) It'd be one thing if this issue was limited to my jaw, but excessive clenching will lead to sleep problems and eventually the onset of viscious migraines.

A word about migraines--anyone who has suffered through them knows that they are truly insufferable (basically a blow to the head where I'm particularly sensitive to light and also become unbelievably nauseous.) The best thing on earth is excedrin migraine and ultimately blacking out from the pain (which is why I freaked out during last year's excedrin recall.) Unfortunately the caffeine in excedrin is what helps the migraine (and the only thing that helps it---without it I'll continue to suffer basically non-functional for several hours to almost 1 day) but I'm also hypersensitive to caffeine and unable to sleep once I've consumed it...which leads to sleep problems (and the other string of problems that follow inadequate sleep.)

I'm still trying to find something that works with the clenching. This appears to be an area where, if targeted in TMJ therapy, could alleviate a good amount of the anguish that comes from having TMJ problems. I've read literature on how botox aids in paralyzing the masseter muscle so I'll look into that eventually, but long-term use of botox has it's own issues and it's still unclear if the issue will persist once botox treatments are stopped (one needs injections every few months.)  Also, botox will help target the muscle contraction issue but if one's TMJ is a result of a combination of muscle and joint problems then the joint problems will still persist. Hopefully I'll have some more insight into this as I'm trying to fix this in my life. I bring this up today because I've endured quite a bit of problems this week due to excessive clenching (most likely brought on by stress) and found out about the TMJ support group online which is very informative (

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