When I was a kid, I never chewed gum. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see who could blow the biggest bubble with my friends. I loved all the fruity flavors gum had to offer; it was a tropical fruit world that I longed to be a part of. No, I didn’t chew gum for the same reason I didn’t eat whole apples—mine were always sliced. For as long as I can remember, eating simple things like this hurt my jaw. It clicked and cracked and was painful to the point where I didn’t want to eat. To this day, the idea of opening my mouth wide and wrapping my mouth around a big, red, juicy apple gives me pain.

I said “Hello” to a friend of mine on the bus. The immense crack that came from my jaw was deafening, even my friend turned to look and see where it had come from.

I never really mentioned my “face pain,” as I called it, to anyone because I just assumed that everyone felt like I did from time to time. I mean, some of those apples that you can get are huge, right? I was at my dentist one day, during my junior year of college, when I finally got around to asking whether or not feeling this kind of pain and discomfort was normal.

My dentist chided me for not telling anyone sooner. As I found out, my jaw discomfort wasn’t normal. I was officially diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorder, more commonly known at TMJD. My symptoms fit every single criterion for TMJD. The clicking/cracking, not being able to open my mouth very wide, waking up with occasional headaches or earaches all are typical symptoms. Adding to the party in my mouth, I also grind my teeth when I sleep (technical term: bruxism).

TMJD isn’t life-threatening, but it puts a cramp in your style. Before I go to bed, I must put in my night guard, a hard molded mouthpiece which prevents my teeth from grinding together while I sleep. This night guard helps lessen my symptoms, but it does promote drooling while I sleep, not to mention speaking with a lisp. If you have ever seen the Tina Fey movie “Date Night,” I’m a lot like that. It’s basically the opposite of sexy.

If I want to even lie down for a nap, I have to get my night guard in or else I wake up with a headache and jaw pain. Stress makes my TMJD worse, sometimes to the point where I only open my mouth wide enough to eat soup or drink through a straw. I frequently wake up with a headache, or will feel my jaw crack painfully if I open it too wide.

My TMJD was at an all-time high when I was studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I was still adjusting to my night guard at the time, and had forgotten to put it in one night before bed. I woke up the next day with the worst headache of my life, but I soldiered on and went to class. Things went downhill when I decided to open my mouth and say “Hello” to a friend of mine on the bus. The immense crack that came from my jaw was deafening, even my friend turned to look and see where it had come from. I was in too much pain to open my mouth again and was on a liquid diet for the next three days. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I haven’t forgotten my night guard since.

It’s frustrating to wake up in the morning and realize that your day will be dictated by how wide you can open your mouth. The regular headaches and earaches go away quickly, but it’s no fun to have three or four days a week. Friends sometimes ask, “What happens when you stay over at a boyfriend’s place?” Currently, I’m single, which means no man has had the joy of looking upon the drooling form that is me as I sleep with my night guard. I’m not too sure how to introduce it, but I know he’ll be the one when he finds my night guard-induced slight lisp sexy.

I’m due for a new night guard soon, a “newer” model which is said to reduce the frequency and intensity of my symptoms. I know that my TMJD probably won’t just magically go away anytime soon, but there are days when all I want is an apple. Whole, not sliced.

Photo: iStockphoto

Tags: health, i have, tmjd