Two Case Studies
As a dentist who specializes in TMJ problems, my patients often ask me how long the positive outcomes of their TMJ treatment will last. It can be challenging to answer this question due to the fact that most patients simply stop coming into the office for care when their pain or jaw function problems have gone away. That leaves me to assume that their goals have been reached and they no longer need my care.
Or so I hope.
Many patients arrive at my office because they suffer as a result of compromised temporomandibular joints (TMJs) and associated arthritic changes, inflammation, or ligament and cartilage injuries. Others have tendinitis and or muscle pain. These are not easy cases to treat.
But, when the pain and discomfort have been reduced and jaw function improved to the degree that a patient no longer comes in for care, I am curious as to whether he or she is still feeling good a few years down the road.
Two recent encounters with former patients not only satisfied my curiosity but also reinforced my theory that when assisted by practical and time-tested treatment, Mother Nature can do a remarkable job of healing.
Case Study #1: Patricia
When Patricia first came into my office, she was 44-years old and had been suffering for many years from a painful, locking right TM joint. She finally decided to seek care when one morning she woke up and her jaw was locked to the point where she couldn’t insert even a pinky finger between her top and bottom teeth. She went to a specialist who ordered an MRI and concluded that the only option was surgery.
Patricia then sought me out for a second opinion. After I listened to her history, performed a physical exam, and reviewed her MRI results, I had to agree that a surgical approach was probably her best option.
However, Patricia was firmly opposed to surgery and persuaded me to try an alternative path of care. We settled on a course of treatment that included oral appliance therapy, physical therapy, Botox muscle injections, a steroid joint injection, and instructions that guided her full participation in the process.
I’m happy to report that the non-surgical treatment worked. After a few months, Patricia stopped coming in for treatment altogether. I had to assume that she was still feeling better.
A couple of years after her last appointment I happened to be at a party and ran into her. She introduced me to her husband this way:
“This is the guy who fixed my TMJ!”
And later that evening I noticed she was laughing and comfortably eating. I was assured then that success had indeed been realized. In Patricia’s case, the combination of treatment, her participation, and nature’s healing process got the job done.
Case Study #2: Susan
Susan was 45-years old when she became my patient. She had suffered from wicked migraines for years. Medication and a regimen of Botox injections every three months had provided her a bit of relief. But she had a feeling that her migraines were somehow related to her jaw muscles and that’s what brought her to me.
Many mornings when she woke up her teeth were clamped tightly together. And almost every day she was aware of what she could only describe as a “bracing” feeling in her jaw.
Like many people who suffer from jaw muscle tension, I suspected that Susan’s stress-filled 18-hour days were the culprit. She was in a perpetual state of “fight or flight” as if she always was ready for battle.
I agreed; Susan’s jaw muscle tension was a likely contributor to the severity of her migraines.
Susan’s treatment protocol included a custom-designed oral appliance to wear at night, a series of daily jaw and neck exercises, and daily self-directed muscle massage. I encouraged her to also pay careful attention to the pace and manner of her breathing during the day, especially while she was at work.
With treatment in place, Susan agreed to return in four months for a re-evaluation. But she never did.
Almost two years later as I was waiting in line to buy a movie ticket, I noticed Susan was also in line. She apologized for not coming into the office for a re-evaluation and told me that her migraines were now few and far between. She had followed the plan of treatment I designed and her jaw muscles were much less symptomatic and her migraines much less severe.
If you commit to be an active participant in your care, the benefits of TMJ treatment can last for years. Moreover, even if you’re someone who has suffered for decades with jaw problems, it is never to late to seek an answer.