August 15, 2012 at 9:05 am , by Julie Bain
I was stressed out last week for a bunch of reasons. So when I woke up Monday morning with pain in my teeth, jaw and ear on the right side, I figured I’d been clenching my jaw in my sleep. Yep, it must be TMJ pain, I thought. (That’s the temporo-mandibular joint; put your finger right in front of that triangular area in front of your ear and then open and close your jaw; you’ll feel it.) Turns out I was in denial, the first of what I call The Five Stages of Dental Grief.
No, I thought. I do not, and cannot, have a major, expensive dental problem right now. I have too many other things to deal with. I will take ibuprofen, and it will go away. Yes, that throbbing, steady, can’t-think-of-anything-else pain on the upper right side Will. Go. Away. Right? This phase lasted three days. The pain didn’t go away.
At the dentist’s office: “Could be from clenching my teeth, right?” “Hmm,” he said, peering at the digital X-ray. “You have a little cavity here. Want to take care of that right now?” Just a cavity? Yes! That will solve it! “But I can’t guarantee it will stop the pain,” he added. Ugh. The anesthesia brought sweet relief. For a while. But when it wore off, the pain came, back, sharper than ever. TMJ pain on top of new filling, I wondered?
The next day, I also started feeling excruciating sensitivity to cold. And now I could tell that the pain and sensitivity were centered on the upper back molar, next to the one that had the cavity. I’m a health editor, so I knew that wasn’t good. “Patients can have some degree of cold sensitivity from receding gums,” says Melanie Kim, D.M.D., an endodontist in New York City. “But if it starts to become sharp and extends for a period of time after it’s triggered, that is usually a nerve issue.” A nerve issue. As in: I may need a root canal. $#*! Hello, Stage 2: Read more