Fun with TMD

Perhaps you’ve heard of TMD (also called TMJ). Maybe you even know what it is, or maybe you’re like I was: aware of the concept, but kind of fuzzy on the details. TMJ stands for your temporomandibular joint: the joint at the base of your jaw. Thus, saying you have TMJ is kind of like saying “I’ve got elbow” or “I’ve got knee.” Everybody has TMJ. TMD, on the other hand, stands for temporomandibular joint disorder.

I, unfortunately, have both.

I’ve always been a teeth grinder. I had one special night guard made, and I actually ground right through it, so I had to have a second one made that’s much more durable. I wear it every night, and it’s helped keep me from grinding my teeth to nubs. However, with the stress of the pandemic and everything around it, I think my teeth grinding really kicked it up a few notches. This is incredibly frustrating, since it happens while I’m asleep, so it’s kind of difficult to just force myself to stop it.

Because of all that grinding, I’ve developed TMJ. It’s been here for the last couple of months. At first it was much more severe, kind of like an ear ache that wouldn’t go away. Chewing anything hurt a lot. Initially I tried to deal with it through medication and rest. A doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant, which seemed to help, but it was just going on and on still, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the medication. (It really zonked me out and had other side effects that were no fun.) So I stopped that.

Now I’ve decided to try physical therapy. The debate was seeing a dentist vs. PT. I have a good friends who’s a physical therapist, so I had him evaluate me to see if it might be some muscular things that are causing it. The result? It seems the whole right side of my face and neck is one big bundle of tension. He also observed that a lot of the problem can be exacerbated by bad posture and poor sleeping habits. I typically sleep on my stomach, which I’ve now learned is the worst possible position for your neck. And while I’ve been consistently striving to have better posture, I can definitely still do more.

So now I’m trying to train myself to sleep on my back (ideally) or my side (if the back doesn’t work). You wouldn’t think a minor change like that would be a big issue. I seem to be able to fall asleep in long meetings, regardless of the position I’m in. But it’s been harder than I thought it would be.

Still, it feels good to be trying to take more steps to solve the problem, and it was a good reminder to me that often the things you think are causing the problem have many more roots than you initially suspect. (Either that, or my physical therapist just thinks everything in life is due to bad posture. The sad thing is, he’s probably more right than I’d like to believe . . .)

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