Empty bottles of Tylenol and Motrin are all I have to show for my 14-year battle with sometimes blinding headaches, so I am quick to volunteer for a demonstration of Dr. Jerry Simon's Best Bite Discluder, used to diagnose and relieve TMJ ds, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome.
Over the phone a few days before I'm to see him, I chat briefly with Simon regarding the frequency, intensity and location of my headaches. My headache pattern varies: I can go several weeks without a headache, then suffer several consecutive days, or have periods of time when I suffer a headache or two a week. I'm more apt to have a headache at work. The pain can range from mild to severe, and be felt in my face, down the back of my neck, across my eyes or in a band across the top of my head.
Simon's in-office exam begins with a three-part test. As he flashes my pearly whites on closed-circuit television, I'm surprised to see several teeth rendered flat-edged from regular grinding, others with odd points, and in one case, a crescent shape. Simon demonstrates how the shapes fit together jigsaw puzzle-like, and points out several grooves the teeth have etched into each other.
We move to the second test. Slack-jawed and with my head tilted back, I slowly bring my teeth together until they just touch (the right back teeth touch first), then clench. My jaw slides sideways as I clench, proof that my teeth are pushing my jaw out of alignment.
The last test involves checking to see if there is muscle pain. Simon presses his finger upward between my gums and cheek on each side. There is tenderness on the right. He has me conduct this test myself so I can see that it doesn't require much pressure to cause the pain.
Satisfied that I meet the criteria for TMJ ds, Simon brings out the discluder, a plastic device he fills with a vanilla-flavored adhesive, then presses it into place on my two top front teeth. Because I cannot easily close my lips over the device, I feel a little like Bucky Beaver; there is no discomfort or pressure, however.
Simon asks me to close my mouth until my bottom teeth lightly tap the device; I do this several times. In the process, my headache quickly fades and my jaw feels in balance and relaxed. When Simon removes the device, the discomfort returns. Simon removes and replaces the device twice more; each time the discluder is put in place, my pain disappears and my bite feels comfortably balanced.
It's a relief to finally pinpoint the cause of my recurrent headaches; I'll next ask my own dentist how to proceed.
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