I feel like I have been following a trail of breadcrumbs to the diagnosis of TMD or Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, which I received with a huge sense of relief in November. I followed one un-ignorable breadcrumb to another: the inability to chew because of pain and sensitivity, months and even years after getting dental work on several molars; developing what seemed like tendonitis in my right arm; chronic, never abating pain in the neck; one chronically constricted muscle along the right margin of my spine; the inability to sit for very long before experiencing back pain; difficulty standing without slumping. My massage therapist and others had mentioned mouth guards, and how well they worked for a lot of people. My chiropractor noticed that the pattern of lock-up I experience seemed to originate somewhere around my right neck/shoulder. My CranioSacral therapist said that there was an irritated nerve in my molar, but that the tooth was healthy enough. An iridologist in Missouri said that there was something significant going on in my jaw/shoulder area. I clearly had a problem. Now the breadcrumbs had finally led me to a solution.
Since I’ve been seeing a specialist recommended by my dentist, and have been wearing a mouth guard, I have been slowly recognizing that for many years I had been unconsciously clenching – not just in my jaw, and jutting it forward, but other places in my body as well. Little by little I bring consciousness to places in my body where I had been unknowingly tightening my muscles. And I am learning, slowly, how to direct my attention toward those places with love and care. And even more slowly, I am learning what it feels like when I am truly relaxed. As I do, the pain is going away as if by magic.
I have been instructed to wear my mouth guard night and day. Wearing it during the night was helping, but not enough. Dr. Citlali, my specialist, explained that my jaw is so habituated to being in a forward position, that I will need some time to train it to be where it is supposed to be. After having the guard and using it night and day (when I’m not eating), when I take it out, I notice that my teeth come together differently. Now it feels a little odd because it will take a while for me to get used to having it in the right place after having it forward all these years (maybe +50?).
This makes me think about how that misalignment must have been impacting my teeth. When I was always chewing using my molars in a way that they were not designed to be used, with the jaw jutted forward, they just didn’t line up right, which caused undue wear and tear on them. They served me as best they could under the circumstances, but with time, they wore down, chipped and cracked. Now I understand why I have always needed so much dental work on my molars. Before this treatment is said and done, I’m going to need to raise the height of the molars themselves because form follows function; my teeth have changed to accommodate my jaw movement patterns over time. As a result of my jaw being relaxed and in the right place, many muscles (that I had no idea I was clenching) begin to relax. This one little thing has had an impact throughout my entire body.
The good news is that in response to the treatment (ongoing work with Dr. Citlali via the mouth guard) my body is relaxing and settling into its new normal. I am noticing a ripple effect. My arm (I couldn’t use that arm without pain) is back to normal. My back feels somewhat improved, but it’s all the way back there and I still can’t really tell for sure. The brittle feeling I was having in my feet and ankles is gone, and I sense my feet as newly supple and responsive to the demands I put on them.
With ongoing care scheduled (I have an appointment with the kinesiologist and two massages with my favorite massage therapist in the next couple weeks), I hope to bring even more awareness to those places so that my new normal will be relaxed, stronger and even more resilient than before.
With this kind of care, education and support, I can learn to notice when I am clenching or drawing in, and anytime I tune in, I will more easily and automatically be able to return to a healthy, relaxed state.
Through my healing process, I am bringing loving, conscious attention to obviously affected places, and my body in general, and am definitely feeling results. Over the years, my legs did not really seem to be part of me, and it felt precarious to move through life in a fluid and grounded way. By comparison, I can look back at times when it felt as though I was walking on tree stumps. What I experience now is so much more fluid and integrated. Like my right leg – my shins – my heels. They are now parts of me. I walk with more connectedness/awareness, more fully inhabiting my feet and lower legs.
So, the journey continues. I am super excited about this, and I am interested to see what happens next!