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Pain is not always visible. Photo: JMS Photos

The greatest aches and pains are usually invisible.

You know when you hear of a celebrity having some rare disease or depression and everyone goes, “Wow, they looked great! You’d never know.” That’s kind of the case with TMJ (temporomandibular disorder), you cannot see it. It’s painful, inconvenient, and torturous at times but no one would know you were in pain. At times, it can also be depressing. And if they know, they do not understand unless they’ve had it, too.

Today’s post is on a more personal level. I thought I’d share something with you that I have been dealing with for some time now. I hope this information can help someone out there seeking treatment. And to anyone who also goes through this, by reading this, you can find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

More Reading: 10 Tips for a Healthier Lifestyle

lifestyle shot
A little bit of research and patience will get you the answers you need.

How I discovered I had TMJ

At first, there were signs but I ignored them because I had no idea. My husband would nudge me and I’d wake up startled. He’d say, “You’re doing it again. You’re grinding your teeth.” I had no idea why I was doing that in my sleep. The first thing I thought about was stress. I had just started freelancing as a photographer and the startup was pretty overwhelming and stressful. Fast forward a few months, I was still grinding my teeth at night and noticed I would wake up feeling sore.

Then came the week where I was in so much pain, I thought I might have a cavity or something worse. It was unbearable. Immediately, I called my dentist. My mother suspected it was TMJ and ironically, she had just been to the dentist and was diagnosed with it only weeks earlier. Too weird.

night guard
While there are over-the-counter night guards, a custom one works best. Ask your dentist about this treatment.

It’s TMJ and it will cost you…

The dentist examined my jaw and took an X-ray. Lo and behold, it was TMJ. She advised me to take things easy and do things that relaxed me like painting, walking, yoga; etc. She taught me facial massages and movements to help and suggested aspirin for the pain. But none of this worked. I was back within a week. $300 later, I had a mouthguard to sleep in at night.

This wasn’t easy either. I could not bear sleeping with the mouthguard at night. I would wake up to remove it. It was torture.

TMJ Symptoms

This disorder can be mild or severe. For some, it goes away after treating it for a while. For others, it remains. I’ve had it for over three years now. I have jaw pain, headaches, soreness, and ear pain. Here are all of the symptoms.

  • Pain or soreness of the jaw
  • Pain in or around your ears
  • Grinding teeth at night (or in the day)
  • Facial pain
  • Toothaches
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Joint locking
  • Headaches
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Popping sound of the jaw

What causes it

For me, the cause seemed to be stress. However, my dentist also found that I had a lot of sinus fluid in the X-ray. I then went to see an allergy specialist who prescribed allergy meds. I have to have an allergy test done and another x-ray to see what else is going on. It has been a painful journey. One that’s affected my quality of life at times. But I refuse to let it take over.

Other causes for TMJ disorder can be arthritis, injured jaw or misaligned bite. TMJ is pretty common among Americans but the amount of pain varies. If you suspect you may have it, I’d suggest seeing a dentist.

essential oils
Essential oils and breathing help relieve stress, anxiety, and headaches.

How I deal with TMJ

You can say I’ve tried EVERYTHING to help ease my aches and pains. I have a custom mouthguard that I wear throughout the day sometimes and at night. The nighttime is more challenging still, but I try. I also use a jade facial roller every morning to massage my face. I find that it helps somewhat. I do facial exercises to avoid more pain. I practice breathing and use essential oils for aromatherapy. I try to book vacations or schedule activities that I enjoy. Not having stress is what helps most but as someone who is self-employed, that is nearly impossible. There are times where my stress is so bad, I get an eye twitch and a stiff neck. When that happens, I stop everything. I breathe, meditate, and relax for a day or two. Nothing can be worth making your body sick over.

I recently began using clear aligners to correct my smile. They are great for people with TMJ. They help with the teeth grinding-sort of like a lighter mouthguard. I did have to pause my treatment to wear the heavy-duty mouthguard but I have started up again. Read about that here.

Well, friends, that’s my TMJ story. It’s been a painful process but there is nothing one cannot overcome without faith and determination. If you have your own story or advice, I’d love to hear it. Or if you have questions, feel free to reach out!