Bionic Women: TMJ Horror Stories

NOTE: This post references graphic accounts of TMJ treatments, complete with pictures.

TMJ disorder is sadly and surprisingly common. What is also shockingly common is the nature of surgical treatments that are frequently used to treat TMJ. If there was ever an instance of the cure being worse than the disease, this has to be it.

TMJ implants that completely failed to help

This is an X-ray of 52-year-old Lisa Schmidt. All of that hardware has been implanted into her jaw via a series of surgeries that began once she was diagnosed with TMJ disorder in 2000.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. That’s just some of the hardware that surgeons added over the years. Here’s the showstopper.

TMJ surgery implanted screws in jaw

 

TMJ patient required to adjust screws herself

Doctors decided Lisa needed to restore some of the bone they had cut out of her jaw during all those surgeries. So they installed yet more hardware in her jaw, complete with screws. And gave her instructions to adjust the screws herself from home.

(According to Lisa’s account, the pain and complications from all those TMJ-related surgeries eventually led her to abandon a career in aerospace, training astronauts for NASA.)

Now meet 50-year-old Jenny Feldman.

TMJ treatments led to jaw replacement twice for one patient

These are pictures after her second total jaw replacement. (Yes, they did it to her twice.) Which, according to the written account, is her 24th – twenty-fourth – TMJ-related surgery since being diagnosed with TMJ at the age of fifteen. That’s an average of one surgery every year and a half. Today, she lives in constant pain and struggles to eat solid food.

Then there’s Tricia Kalinowski.

Numerous jaw implants left TMJ worse than before

After being diagnosed with TMJ disorder as a young mother in her 20s, she has had a total of 13 surgeries over the years to replace disks, attempt to replace bone eaten away by those artificial disks, perform tissue grafts, and insert (and later remove) implants. Now in her early 60s, she lives with headaches and jaw pain every day, and neck pain that is worse than before her surgeries. The most heartbreaking portion, for Kalinowski, is that all those surgeries cause permanent nerve damage on her lower face, so she hasn’t felt her husband’s kisses since the 1990s.

While these patients may be on the extreme end of the scale in terms of the sheer volume of treatments they’ve undergone, they’re hardly alone in their lack of results. A huge percentage of patients experience more pain and discomfort, not less, in the wake of surgical intervention. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted a review of decades of research on TMJ disorder treatments, and concluded that the TMJ disorder treatments most commonly utilized are based on “strongly held beliefs” and “inadequate research” rather than hard scientific evidence. Moreover, treatments like installing braces or crowns or grinding down teeth have “no supporting evidence” and, according to the National Institutes of Health, “don’t work and may make the problem worse.”

There’s a social media personality who goes by Footless Jo. As you can probably guess from her nickname, she is missing a foot, and it’s because she asked doctors to cut it off. After experiencing a catastrophic ankle fracture due to falling off a horse at the age of thirteen, she underwent ten surgeries throughout her teenage years to relieve her chronic pain and restore her full function, attempts that were ultimately futile. At the age of 27, after it became obvious that even a full ankle replacement was only a stopgap measure before she would need to eventually have her leg amputated in her 60s or 70s, she suggested to her doctors that maybe it was time to stop postponing the inevitable. In time, they agreed, and she is now an amputee.

While that’s a reasonable course of action if you’re experiencing debilitating pain in an extremity, you can’t amputate your jaw, no matter how bad it’s functioning. But it’s hardly stopped surgeons from trying.

There’s a better way to go about this: addressing TMJ disorder with therapies and treatments that are non-surgical, non-invasive, and provide short-term pain relief with long-term remedies. If you are experiencing TMJ disorder, but want to avoid the predicament these and other patients are in, contact us and we’ll do what we can to help.

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