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My TMJ story: Mild and reversible?

Hey all, I'm a 25 year old male TMJ sufferer

Medications: Zoloft for anxiety and depression from the ages of 14 to 24, Ibuprofen as needed (lately daily), Dexilant for acid reflux

I have an awful, patchy memory so excuse me if this is all over the place. The timeline won't be perfect.

So about 2-3 years ago, maybe 4, I started getting a fullness feeling in my ears (predominantly my left). I figured something was in there or that I had eustachian tube blockage. I would always stretch my jaw to try and "pop" my ear to get relief. Sometimes it would help. But as symptoms persisted I no longer found relief and began to look up TMJ and read that many "ear blockage" sensations are just phantom nerve pains from your temporomandibular joint, since all of that stuff is so close together and interrelated. This made sense seeing that when I forcibly pop my ears (with a voluntary movement the way someone would wiggle their ears) it often felt like a bone was moving/cracking and audible sounds were definitely present. During big yawns or jaw stretches I occasionally noticed tearing feelings that almost seemed to relieve the tension temporarily. Anyways, more symptoms start to pop up: Jaw aches, persistent facial tenderness in the cheek area, a ring-like burning sensation around my mouth, dry mouth, perceived tongue pain to where it never felt comfortable resting anywhere in my mouth, and sometimes the worst of all...tension headaches. Feels like my head is between a vice. The headahes, which occur mostly at night, are quite debilitating, and even when they aren't there is almost ALWAYS a mild sensation of tightness or tingling around my head or scalp. Moderate to severe pressure on my temples and behind my eyes.
So after a couple ENTs, a headache specialist, one neurologist and one TMJ specialist, it was non schalantly deduced that I have only mild blockage in my sinus cavity, no apparent eustachian tube dysfunction and most likely had TMJ dysfunction. The TMJ guy was young and sort of rude and while I don't recall him scanning or x-raying my actual jaw, he basically said it wasn't bad enough for invasive surgery and there was nothing he could do. Sent me on my way. Somewhere during this period my longtime dentist also confirmed bruxism complete with noticeable wear and tear on my teeth that gets a little worse with each visit. He gives me a splint to fit over my top teeth, but due to stubbornness and anxiety of swallowing it I wore it only sporadically and then stopped completely. I noticed only more oral discomfort from the few times I did wear it though.

Fast forward a bit and towards the end of 2015/beginning of 2016, I'm generally feeling better. I quit the Zoloft I had been on for many years because I felt like I had control over my hyperchondria, anxiety and depression. Sure, the tension headaches were still a few times a week but the jaw aches and most importantly my obsessive anxiety over the situation had mostly subsided. I do not know if my symptoms had actually diminished or if my hobbies and social activities (dating, drinking and joining a band as their lead singer) had just distracted me from the nagging issues. BUT here we are now, and roughly about 3 weeks ago it's like a switch went off. I decided my headaches were getting too aggravating to live with, especially after drinking, so I start wearing the old splint from several years back at night, hoping to go through with it this time and reduce grinding. Well, it felt extremely tight on my teeth therefore I'm guessing it no longer fits and did more damage than good. After nearly a week of wearing it, my myofascial pain and jaw tenderness are back to being just as painful as they were going back a year or two, along with neck pain, horrible dry mouth and throat pain while talking (which could also be due to straining my voice while singing). Not to mention my anxiety and compulsion to fixate on this issue are both absolutely through the roof. My appetite has decreased, my interest in my band and other social activites have decreased, and not a day goes by where I'm not obsessing on my pain (even though it's mild) and frantically looking up TMJ symptoms and horror stories from other people.
I should say, I still live at home with my parents and I only work a part time job at a retail store. I have very few bills and adult responsibilites so all my stress is self induced or innate. So I can only imagine how my disorder will feel when I actually have to "adult". I should also note that at no point are these symptoms so chronic to the point where I can even remotely compare myself to a lot of you sufferers. If I had to gauge my pain on a numerical scale, I'd say it's moderate discomfort at a consistent 3-4, and a 6 or 7 during flare ups and tension headaches.
It's also VERY IMPORTANT to note that while I do have clicking, muscle pain, neck discomfort, throat pain, ear fullness, tight pressure around my head and a whole host of TMJ symptoms, I seem to not have any sort of lockjaw or difficulty chewing. My jaw has locked up upon yawning maybe 5 times in my life so it's not an ongoing issue. The chewing, yes, sometimes it will feel a tad tender or I'll bite on something abnormally and have an "oww!" moment, but eating never seems to worsen my pain.cid anything it's a momentary escape from everything. Opening my mouth wide is uncomfortable, but I can fit 3 fingers in it sideways with relative ease, and I only experience some slight pain and tenderness around my mouth depending on the day of if my other symptoms are acting up. It feels more like normal pain from my skin stretching than anything else.

So in conclusion, I do not know what the severity of my issue is or if I'm just freaking myself out over very mild pain, but the pain or uncomfortable sensation is almost always there and the stress that it causes is no way to live. This is not quality of life....and I shudder to think of what my existence will feel like if this becomes even more painful or chronic. Again, right now it's just some slight burn, achey feeling by my cheeks, a somewhat tightness to my jaw, ear stuffiness which is probably the most annoying symptom, and bad headaches that I get frequently at night which do effect my ability to enjoy anything I'm doing. I'm strongly considering getting back on the Zoloft to help with my crippling anxiety, but I've read that this specific antidepressant can actually LEAD to grinding and TMJD, which would make a lot of sense in my case, so I'm skeptical to get back on it. I've heard Elavil and similar drugs can help reduce clenching at night and also act as antidepressants?

If anyone has any suggestions please throw some my way. I do not know if conservative treatments will help me or if I should look into more aggressive treatments that will alter my jaw alignment, which I've heard can cause worse pain and permanent irreversible problems. Dentists, chiropractors, massage therapists...which one of these best fits my situation? I have to act fast though because as of next February I will be 26, and effective immediately I will no longer be allowed on my moms insurance. I hear a lot of TMJ treatment isn't even covered by insurance, but the point is I do not know what my financial situation will be less than a year from now....and I don't want to let this get any worse. Like all of you, I want relief so that I can enjoy my life.

Thank you.
- Cody

P.s - I also have a hiatal hernia/GERD and sporadic, severe lower back pain that was prevalent since April but has seemed to go down a bit since the TMJ stuff took the reigns. The reflux forced me to sleep on a wedge pillow for years which could have caused my back and neck pains, and subsequently my jaw issues.
I also have gingivitis that fluxuates based on my brushing and flossing habits, forward head posture problems, scoliosis and "text neck". My diet is very poor and mostly consists of fast food, breakfast cereals and TV dinners. The only exercise I get is from being on my feet for hours at work and pushing carts. My longest standing ailment is my irritable bowel syndrome, and I was disgnosed with prostatitis a few years back as well.
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replied November 16th, 2017
get a balanced bite find a TMJ specialist the key is to finding where your jaw wants to be and getting you a natural bite so your jaw can finally rest where it was naturally supposed to!
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