You may have seen the news that we had a major winter storm in Texas in mid-February. I was lucky in that I lost power for a few days (I camped out in a warm hotel room), but was otherwise unscathed. Literally thousands of Texans had devastating damage and many of these people are still dealing with the aftermath. One such person is my dentist.
It turns out that my dental checkup was originally scheduled for a day or so after the winter storm was supposed to hit. Knowing the roads would still be in bad shape, I had called and left a message that I would reschedule once things thawed out. When I called back, it turns out the dental practice is going to be closed indefinitely. The pipes had frozen in the office (which is in a standalone building). The frozen pipes burst and when they thawed, they caused a flooded office. The flood caused an electrical short. The electrical short caused a fire and the building basically burned to the ground. More than a month later they’re still in discussions with the insurance company with no idea of when they might get to rebuild.
I had planned to talk with my dentist about TMJ issues. I’ve had TMJ problems as long as I can remember. My jaw regularly popped and clicked whenever I ate and three or four times a year would get “locked” where I had problems opening my mouth. I’ve always been able to pop it back in place and go on with life. At the first of the year, this was happening more often and by the first of March, it was almost a daily occurrence. On March 17, my TMJ locked and I haven’t been able to get it to release.
Not everyone realizes that RA will attack any joint it chooses, including the TMJ. (A search of rheumatoidarthritis.net will bring up some excellent articles on the subject.) There are several things that can cause TMJ issues. Teeth alignment/bite is probably the most common. For people with RA, the joint and/or cartilage can also be damaged to the point the TMJ can no longer function properly.
After nearly a week of limited function and range of motion, I called my dentist. I won’t bore you with the details but it was several days of tracking down alternate resources and other referrals. Finally, my original dentist called me back and told me they had found a temporary dental clinic where they could see patients on an emergency basis and they gave me an appointment for today (two weeks after my jaw had locked up).
We don’t know anything yet. I’m in a temporary bite alignment splint to see if that will relax the jaw enough that the joint will realign. I talked to my dentist about my other joint issues (specifically the five that have been replaced) and explained that I was concerned the TMJ was also going to be a victim of RA. So I was sent to yet another dental facility and had 3-D X-rays of my head to see if we can determine the status of the joint. I go back to see my dentist in a week.
The other thing is that the TMJ falls in this weird alternate universe that is neither covered by dental or medical insurance. Each kind of insurance classifies it as the other kind of problem and won’t cover it. The only thing that is potentially possible is that if I have to have surgery (to basically replace the joint), it may be covered by insurance (if I can find a qualified surgeon who takes Medicare …).
It’s been a bit more than a year since I had my second hip replaced. Since my diagnosis, it seems like every year to 18 months, I’m having another surgery to repair/replace a joint. I am hopeful my TMJ isn’t the next one in line.
I hope that everything is aligning in your life. Thanks for checking in.