Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Taking My Health Into My Own Hands

I haven't written anything too personal on this blog lately. I haven't written much of anything, to be honest, but those of you who've seen me post about this on Facebook know what's been going on. And I want to put it all here in case it helps anyone else.

Since the summer of 2013, I've been suffering with TMJ related pain. For those who don't know, feel free to Google it. For those of you who do, or who also suffer with it, you already know. I used over-the-counter mouthguards for a while, until they just weren't helping and the pain was too much, and I finally went to the dentist (after too many years of avoiding). After a thorough dental cleaning, I was fitted for a special mouthguard on my lower teeth to help with grinding. Grinding teeth at night is one of the big bad things that TMJ suffers do. It took a few weeks (and a lot of money) but I got the mouthguard.

It kind of helped. The pain levels were up and down for the next couple of months, sometimes around a 4 (on a 1-10 scale), sometimes a 7 or 8. Early in 2014, I was getting frustrated by the whole thing, so I made an appointment with a local orthodontist who specialized in TMJ disorders. He didn't like the mouthguard my dentist ordered, so I was fitted for an upper teeth guard that cost 3x as much. *big sigh*

The really irritating thing was that it would take 3 weeks to get it. More pain. And once it came in, he wanted me to wear it for a few weeks to see if the pain improved. At that point, I was ready to burst into tears. I clearly remember the feeling. But I did it.

At this point, so many of the details are jumbled together, and I'm too lazy to research. But the mouthguard kind of helped. The pain was up and down most days. And then May/June hit, and my life because an unexpected quagmire of stress. I didn't care enough to call the ortho. And then Kitteh's illness in July took the wind out of me. Plus stress causes inflammation, so....

I also somehow managed to knock my glasses to the floor in the middle of the night, step on them, bend them, and the people at Lenscrafters couldn't quite get them right again, so the nose pad dug into my face. More pain. Pretty much all day long, I was raging at around an 8.5-9. The area around my right eye would get numb by the end of the night.

Not fun.

Sometime in August (I think) I went back to my orthodontist, and we decided to try muscle relaxers for two weeks, taken before bed. After two nights, I already noticed a change in my pain level. The relaxers are supposed to stop the head and jaw muscles from spasming during the night, which is part of what causes the pain, and they were doing their job. Yay! At the two-week follow-up appointment, my pain was simmering around 4 by the end of the day, so we chalked it up to a win. I made another appointment for November.

Two days later, the pain shot back up to 7-8. I tried herbal remedies. I tried all kinds of supplements. I massage my face, head and neck every morning in the shower. Now I'm one of those weird people who don't like to seem needy. I hate going to the doctor, any doctor. So I didn't want to call my ortho yet. I didn't want to have to take more drugs or get a Botox shot.

Now some of you know that last summer my sister had some serious pain issues in her hands. Carpal tunnel symptoms that no one could really diagnose. She started eating gluten free in order to control the pain, and except for a few slips, it's worked for her. I did some more research into gluten sensitivities, and how it can cause inflammation. I found stories online of folks whose TMJ pain has been improved by cutting out gluten.
So I figured what the hell? I was desperate to stop living every day in pain. I wanted stop taking six ibuprofen a day, that really didn't help. So on September 29th I had my last (known) encounter with gluten. It was Progresso Minestrone soup (my old favorite). The next day I began a journey toward eating gluten free.

Was it difficult? Not really. I did it because I WANTED to do it. And I like to cook, so preparing things from scratch rather than relying on frozen dinners and frozen pizza wasn't a hard switch. It took about two weeks before I started to notice a change. And over the course of about a month, I went from a pain level of 8.5 down to around a 4-5, depending on the day.

Over the last few months, I've noticed a lot of other things. My overall sense of wellness has improved. I am less bloated. I am more cheerful now that I'm not in pain. And I have found a lot of new favorite foods (a year ago I never would have imagined liking black eyed peas and lima beans). I also made use of my insurance and got a new pair of glasses. Once the nose pads were properly aligned, the pain dropped to around a 3.5-4.

The last two days are the best I've felt in a year. When I told my ortho in November about being gluten free, he told me he'd had a few other patients show improvement by doing the same. He also asked if I'd cut out dairy, but I told him I love cheese too much. LOL.

So yes. I am gluten free by choice, and it has improved the TMJ inflammation that used to make me want to bash my head against a wall. Sometimes I miss Hardee's chicken tenders, but I've found great substitutes. Some people still look at gluten free like it's a fad, but gluten sensitivity does exist in more people than probably realize. The wheat we eat isn't the same as the wheat our ancestors used to eat. It's highly processed and it's not good for us.

In the end, when I can end my day with a low discomfort level and a belly full of healthy food, I call it a win.