A couple updates ago, I was on here complaining about face symmetry and useless TMJ doctors that screwed up my entire life for ever and always. Yup. It basically went something like that if you missed that post (here). In that post, I wasn’t lying about sending “I can’t take this anymore” emails out to the handful of doctors I have been to since moving to Sydney. So I thought I better report that one of those doctors (second one I went to and started with back in November), wrote me back in the middle of the night and actively referred me to a colleague of his in Brisbane.
Now, I wasn’t exactly happy about that back when it was a mere suggestion, but at this point Stark and I were discussing going back to rendition of plan A – where I was going to actually stay in the United States until this whole fiasco was fixed and meet him here in Sydney eventually, but flipped around with me actually going back to Los Angeles or New York to see a specialist that could piece it all back together. So what’s Brisbane when you’re thinking of temporarily moving half way around the world from your significant other? No big deal!
Back in November, this doc had suggested this route but now he was officially referring me. More than anything, I appreciated his honesty. FINALLY someone was up front in saying, “I can’t help you,” and giving me due reason to believe that someone else could. Previously, I would be referred to someone new and then everyone would just fall silent – no reason why they could or couldn’t help me, and no real help from the next guy either.
Long story short, I went to Brisbane.
I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and walked to the train station. Trained to the airport. Flew into Brisbane. Trained into Fortitude Valley. Worked while I waited. Arrived at my appointment and finally felt like I was at the right place with the right people.
The place looked dystopian. Everyone but the main doctor wore the same Asian-style dresses and were in fact all female with ridiculously spectacular teeth! I starred at them walking by this warehouse-like space and wondered if somehow they were all robots and there was something about this new set of teeth I’d be given that would place me under the control of…. clearly I’ve been watching great movies!
My one hour consultation moved into a 3-hour conveyor belt of 3-5 girls working on me at any given time. In the near two years I have had this problem, I have not had that much attention to the issue in all my previous visits piled into one. I was cared for. I was listened to. Most of all, I was told exactly what was going to happen and WHY.
When I left, I felt like I had been to a spa. Everything about the place was pristine, well-manicured, and comforting! I had met with the main doctor multiple times. She had gone over my entire history and looked at my teeth thoroughly. I had 3 or 4 impressions taken of my teeth. My neck, shoulder, and facial muscles had all been checked. I had a specialist do a restorative therapy consultation with me as well as work through my first appointment – two weeks of physical therapy that makes my previous facial therapy entirely useless. In fact, after all I learned yesterday, I’ve learned that the main problem I can blame my initial doctors for were based on five simple but serious words: Don’t let your teeth touch. (Six words if you count conjunctions as two.)
I was even treated to anything I would like – food, water, tea. They observed. They videoed. They photographed. And for the first time, none of it felt like a desperate waste of my time!
After all of this information was gathered, a course of action was not only derived but initiated! I would have 12 months, 15 visits of physical therapy that would not just help to restore the muscles in my face and work to give me back that beloved symmetry, but also to ensure that it doesn’t happen again because of terrible habits my current mouth-situation has caused. But that wasn’t all. Just that would have been discouraging to me as I have already done so much to work through similar therapies. The real difference was the action taken to move my bite forward.
A friend of mine back in December has been the only person to suggest that this method would be the best place to start. Even then, his suggestion wouldn’t be helpful until I found someone in Australia that would agree. Without even suggesting the possibility that this would be a solution, my new doctor was on the move – sand blasting (no joke) my back molars so she could build up a glass-like glue that would raise my back bottom molars up by 2mm.
That might seem like a terrible idea. If I can’t close my mouth at all, why would you want to open it even more? But I entirely understood and I was more than game for getting these plans in motion.
So right now, none of my teeth touch. Before, only my back sets of molars were touching. Now, my back sets of molars touch down to little, smooth mounds. I don’t even care that the result is being entirely unable to chew. My one set of teeth that could shred food apart are now capped with a glassy, non-shredding substance BUT with good reason.
By raising up my back molars to be supported evenly, the hope is that my jaw joints and muscles will work to teeter my entire bite forward. It gives my mouth the sense that everything is normal. Rather than my top set of back molars running diagonally into my bottom set of molars, making it so that my mouth can’t shut at all and forcing my muscles to have to support holding my mouth shut, my teeth have a place to rest.
I’m still getting over the foreign object feeling that keeps causing me to bite the patooty out of my back molars and attempt to grind down these little bumps, but I can already tell that my overbite problem is nearly solved. My jaw has already been able to squeak its way up toward a more natural placement.
For now, the rest of the plan all lies in facial exercises. Where my previous physical therapist in the States just had my wagging my tongue around and squeezing my lips together over and over again, just week 1 of my new exercises are harder than anything I have had to do before. For you or any normal-mouthed person, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Trust me, I’ve already tried mimicking Stark’s ability to do all these exercises. For me, the hardest and strangest exercise I have is somewhat like resistance training for your face muscles.
That’s what the picture above is all about and that is the only non-surgical route back to having less of a stroke-victim looking face. Basically, I have a heavy, large button at the end of a string. I place the button inside my lips but not behind my teeth. Then I weigh down/pull the other end of the string and try to hold on to the button with just my lip muscles. I have to do that in the center and on both sides of my mouth. That’s just phase 1, however.
Phase 2 is part of week 2. In that phase, I have to be able to hold the button in the front of my lips, no teeth, while weighing down/pulling at the string AND holding a small rubber brand with my tongue to the roof of my mouth right there in that part of your mouth that you make snapping/clicking noises with. Similarly, I have to be able to hold that small rubber band in that spot with two large rolls of cotton blacked in the top of my lip (between the lip and gums) and the bottom of my lip while ALSO holding another super nano piece of rubberband between my lips without letting go of either rubberband.
As if stuffing your lips with cotton didn’t make that hard enough, try adding 2 extra, new millimeters of space between your teeth that were already 1.7mm away from touching. So a near 4mm of space (aka open your teeth while doing this). NOW even the most normal-mouthed person has a hard time doing that.
Right now, I have 2-3 weeks of this before I have a Skype therapy session with the restorative therapist. Then in 4-5 weeks, I fly to Brisbane again for a follow up appointment with the doctor who will access how my teeth have moved as a result of the therapy strengthening and the hopeful teetering caused by my little molar mounds.