My TMJ Story: Pain and Digging Deep to Find Relief

My TMJ pain came on suddenly and caused me extreme anguish at times. Here is my story and how I got rid of it.

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, which is where your jaw connects to your cheekbone on either side. People who have acute or chronic pain at this site often refer to it as “TMJ,” though truly it’s “TMD”- Temporomandibular disorder.
One commonly known cause of TMD is teeth clenching or grinding, which often occurs while sleeping but can continue throughout the day as well. For as long as I can remember I have been a teeth-grinder, and my husband used to tell me he could hear me doing it at night while I slept, which makes me cringe. After I had braces as an adult, my teeth alignment was improved and I now wear a retainer that is built up to prevent grinding. It works for the most part.
Despite knowing I have been a grinder, it never really caused me pain so I didn’t worry too much about it. However, this past fall I experienced two separate and extreme bouts of TMJ pain that required immediate attention.
It’s difficult to separate my TMJ pain from my tooth pain- I’ll explain why. In August, 2018, I began the process of getting my mercury fillings removed by a holistic dentist. I had all 3 of them removed between 2 appointments on August 20th and 29th, which required work on 3 of the 4 quadrants of my mouth and which included localized anesthesia. I had read that the injection of anesthesia into the gum/muscle inside your cheek can cause continued soreness at that site, so I expected this. However, for whatever reason this aching persisted for weeks and my teeth continued to be extremely sensitive to touch and temperature for weeks after the work was completed as well. I knew this was also considered “normal,” and that some people are even sore or sensitive to temperatures for months. I had the work checked by my holistic and by my regular dentist afterwards to make sure there weren’t any problems that needed attention, and everything checked out. I just had to wait.
About a month after I had the work done, I found out I was pregnant (yay!) About 2 weeks after that, a sudden onset of severe upper jaw pain began. I still had teeth pain too, and it felt like there was a nerve through the root of my upper teeth that was just being compressed and pulled at nearly constantly. I could tell I was inflamed, but the exact source was unclear to me because the pain radiated through my whole right upper dental arch, at the site of my temporomandibular joint and up the side of my head. Since I was pregnant, I was told that it was only safe to take Tylenol.
At the time, I was about to receive my certificate in holistic nutrition and I had done research on pharmaceuticals during my last pregnancy as well. Based on my research and schooling, I actually wanted to AVOID exposing my baby to ANY NSAIDs, especially Tylenol (more on this later). Despite my research, I was nervous to disobey conventional recommendations against ibuprofen because they are SO ubiquitous. “Everyone knows” you can’t take anything but Tylenol (acetaminophen) when pregnant. After grappling with this medical and moral dilemma, I began alternating Tylenol and Advil at half-doses. Advil was more effective, but it eased my mind to switch it up so as to not put too much of any one substance in my body. I would wait until I REALLY needed it each time, but honestly I wouldn’t have been able to work without it. My patients were starting to ask me what was wrong and why I was cradling my face in my hand.
I was determined to not only find relief but find the source of inflammation so I could fix the problem and stop this pain cycle.

I did online research (via Google) to find out potential links of TMJ pain to various psychological causes. I asked friends who had been through this in the past a well as those in the medical field for suggestions. I looked up the chakra most associated with teeth and jaw pain.
My search revealed I may have pent up anger which could be contributing to holding tension in my jaw. I discovered my 5th chakra could be blocked by me not expressing myself in the way I want to or not taking action steps to realize my dreams and goals. Of course, I added the medical reasons why my teeth and jaw were likely inflamed: recent dental work, teeth clenching/grinding, and being newly pregnant. With pregnancy comes a 50% increase in blood volume throughout the body. Due to more blood within even the smallest of our vessels, they expand. Tooth pain is therefore not uncommon during pregnancy, and I remember experiencing some of this during my first time around as well. Congestion is also common in pregnancy and with my sinuses semi-clogged, I felt like it made the tooth pain worse. Armed with all this information but not really knowing what to believe, I had some options.

Action steps I took based on my woo-woo research and allopathic medical knowledge:

  • I took Advil and Tylenol when I truly needed it, mostly in half-doses
  • I took a liquid supplement called Mixed EFAs (a blend of essential fatty acids) from Biotics Research (a trustworthy company, #notsponsored). My thought process was that these particular high-quality fatty acids would trigger anti-inflammatory prostaglandin pathways and decrease my pain naturally. Call it placebo effect if you want, but I did feel like these helped.
  • I performed massage of the joint and of the surrounding areas to release tension, doing research on best techniques
  • I used nasal saline spray to clear my sinuses
  • I performed visualization and humming exercises to engage and heal my 5th chakra, the Throat Chakra.
  • I began journalling and spending my commute in silence trying to release negative energy and to get to a place of Zen.
  • I bought a fancy planner so I could map out my intentions for the new year and create concrete goals to release this burden of feeling “stuck”
  • I bought CBD oil (THC free) to apply to my cheek at the joint site to reduce inflammation
  • I saw my holistic and conventional dentists to evaluate the status of my dental work
  • I purchased a moldable bite-guard to wear while I slept (at the suggestion of my conventional dentist)
  • I tried warm and cold compresses. Warm helped (heating pad on face) but cold triggered my tooth sensitivity
  • I tried to drink more water
  • I cried at times from the pain and frustration- this did not help. I tried not to do it because scrunching my face up made the pain worse.
It’s hard to know which of the less objective methods worked, but I’d like to think it was the combination of all my efforts that eventually brought relief. I am now completely pain free. Mental work and open-mindedness to holistic approaches are extremely important in healing, in my opinion. I was desperate and willing to try ANYTHING. However, if I could pinpoint the methods that were the most immediately effective, I’d say it was the bite guard and the CBD oil. Of course, the NSAIDs were effective, too, but I knew they were a band-aid and not a sustainable solution. I feel that the CBD oil worked to reduce inflammation and stop the cycle of angry nerve/joint pain. I only needed to use it a handful of times, too, and haven’t needed it since. The bite guard worked to reduce the repeated stress and aggravation placed on the joint itself while I was sleeping. I feel that the mental self-care I performed has kept the pain from returning. I also intermittently wear the bite guard in addition to wearing my retainer nightly for prevention of recurrence.

My message to those suffering from acute or chronic pain- The answer doesn’t have to be one-note! You can do so much to help yourself break the cycle of pain physically, mentally and even spiritually. My methods may seem crazy at times, but I have found that with desperation comes increased open-mindedness. I feel it’s my duty to share my experience so that others can “embrace the woo” and join me in self healing!

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