About 3 years ago I started noticing popping in my left jaw joint along with discomfort. Over the months, both grew worse. I would wake up at least once a month with my jaw stuck shut. I would have to massage my left jaw joint in order to be able to open my mouth. I also have always had migraines, but it seemed that I was having them twice as often. I decided to see a TMJ specialist in St. Louis in December of 2015. After having an MRI, he informed me that both of my TMJ discs were displaced. The one on the right recaptured upon opening but the one on the left was not recapturing at all and my lower jaw bone had significantly decreased bone density. He recommended splint therapy along with physical therapy exercises to increase my range of motion and decrease discomfort in my jaw. I wore the splint every day and saw the specialist about once a month for nearly a year. The popping and clicking noises had decreased but the pain had not. I was in some sort of pain or discomfort at all times and would have episodes of such extreme pain that I would have to miss work once every other week or so. My TMJ specialist finally concluded that the splint therapy was not working and referred me to a surgeon.
The surgeon confirmed that I had about 75% bone loss in the left jaw joint, and a little less than 50% bone loss in the right, and that I would need surgery for a complete joint replacement on both sides. This was very scary news. The surgery itself is not only extremely invasive but very costly. I would have to remain in the hospital for 3-5 days, and the estimated recovery time was 4-6 weeks, two of which would require that I have 24/7 help. My jaw would be banded shut following the surgery, and the recovery process sounded painful and long.
In the meantime, I started working for Smiles R Forever dental office in Waterloo, IL. It was suggested by Dr. Blattner that I try neuromuscular TENS therapy and orthodontics with Invisalign.
I had braces from another orthodontist when I was in middle school, but my bite was not left in the correct position. I also had not worn my retainers as directed, so my teeth and bite had both shifted. I began receiving TENS therapy once every couple of weeks or so, which greatly helped my pain and discomfort, but only for a short time, and frequent treatments were necessary.
In February of 2017, I began my orthodontic treatment using Invisalign clear aligners. I was initially prescribed 22 aligners that would take about a year to complete, switching trays every 2 weeks.
After a month of treatment, I decided to go ahead with Propel to speed up my treatment. Propel is a small device that the dentist uses to dimple the bone, just under the gum, all the way around both arches. This stimulates the bone and allows the teeth to shift much quicker than normal, cutting treatment time nearly in half. I finished my first set of aligners by the end of June, rather than the following January.
Thus far, I had noticed a significant decrease in the number of symptoms I was having related to my TMJ issues. I was rarely experiencing any popping or clicking noises, and my pain had decreased to a much more manageable level. I was not waking up with my jaw stuck shut, and I was able to enjoy more foods that I could not eat before. I was also missing less and less work.
At this time, Dr. Blattner and I decided that I needed additional aligners because my smile, although much better, was not where I wanted it to be. I was prescribed an additional 10 aligners that I finished on November 2nd, 2017 and I am ecstatic with the results!
I am no longer in constant pain and only have episodes of symptoms once a month or less, with far fewer migraines. The popping and clicking noises are virtually gone, maybe occurring once every couple of months or so when I am yawning or taking a large bite of food. I still have to be careful with the foods that I eat, because larger items or things which are more chewy are still difficult and cause some discomfort, but I am able to eat a lot of the things I had to stay away from before.
Additionally, I have had many people compliment my smile and say that they have noticed that even the shape of my face has changed and become more symmetrical. A lot of the damage done to my jaw joints is irreversible, but I feel that my symptoms are so much better that I will be able to avoid a major invasive surgery for a long while, if not indefinitely.
Sara Welch – Treatment Coordinator at Smiles R Forever