Finally Pain Free!

Sep 08, 2015 No Comments by

A FULL MOUTH RECONSTRUCTION ELIMINATES A LIFETIME OF PAIN.

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from daily headaches. They started in my early childhood and as I grew older, they intensified. In my mid-to-late twenties, the pain was almost unbearable by the end of a workday. A background headache usually lingered with me throughout the day. By the time my shift as a dental assistant was over, the pain was just about intolerable.

When I arrived home, I would stumble into the house and retreat to a pillow-laden, secluded closet where it was dark, cool, and quiet. I would sit in solitary confinement, sometimes for hours, until my headache—and often-severe nausea—subsided.

As a new wife and mother, spending several hours in a dark closet every night wasn’t an ideal situation. But it was the only way that I could cope with the severe headaches that plagued me throughout my life.

I had all the classic symptoms: severely over-closed Class II bite, poor occlusion, forward head posture, and frequent headaches (amongst many other things).

Not only did I experience headaches, I also had a bevy of other ailments. Sometimes my arms and hands were numb and tingling. A persistent ringing noise sounded in my ears. And when I walked, my hips would make a popping sound.

None of these issues seemed normal, but after I visited a physician, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and instructed to take a barrage of medication every day to help control the pain.

Medication wasn’t the best course of action for me. Popping pills only masked the pain and I wasn’t getting to the root of the problem. There was something wrong, but what was it?

The Answer Is Dentistry
I never imagined that I would find an answer to my health issues within my own field of work. Who would have thought that dentistry would have anything to do with my problems?

Since the age of nineteen, I’ve been employed as a dental assistant. During that time, I worked for about ten years at a practice in Topeka, KS, with a local dentist, Dr. Anthony Beckler. Shortly after my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, my family and I moved to Las Vegas, NV. When we arrived, several dentists interviewed me for employment and I decided that one office was a particularly good fit for my situation.

Not long after I started work at the practice, I realized why I was drawn to that specific dentist. The dentist, Dr. Gregg Hendrickson, happened to be a specialist in neuromuscular dentistry. Fortunately, his advanced training gave him the exact expertise to diagnose and resolve the health issues that I had been suffering from for my entire lifetime. Therefore, Dr. Hendrickson not only became my new boss, he also became my doctor and miracle worker.

With just one look, Dr. Hendrickson determined that the source of my problems wasn’t fibromyalgia but rather a dental malady called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). I had all the classic symptoms: severely over-closed Class II bite, poor occlusion, forward head posture, and frequent headaches (amongst many other things).

With the Class II bite, my upper teeth protruded slightly forward and so my top molars didn’t meet my bottom molars in the ideal Class I position. We immediately began splint therapy and he fitted my lower jaw with an orthotic. I wore it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

From the first moment I put on the orthotic, I noticed a significant difference. The pain lessened and eventually went away. Interestingly, I immediately felt the pain return when I took the orthotic off for even five minutes. The headaches and numbness in my arms would return, and my hips would start to pop as I walked. Because of the dramatic reduction in symptoms, I wore the orthotic constantly. It literally became an extension of myself—my best friend, you might say.

Most people will have their splint realigned in about three months with splint therapy. In that time frame, they’ll be symptom free and pain free. Mine took about a year to get the right fit.

We had to constantly readjust and refit the orthotic to get my teeth to a place where my muscles were comfortable. Even after everything was properly aligned, I wore it religiously for the next ten years so that the teeth wouldn’t return to their old position.

At a Crossroads
About that time, I felt like I was at a crossroads in my career. I returned to Kansas after living in Nevada and tried to decide what to do next with my life. With my specific level of training as an assistant in a neuromuscular dentistry office, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy working in general dentistry again. I wanted to stretch and grow in my career and I wasn’t sure that I could replicate the advanced experience of working with a specialist in Las Vegas. At the time, I considered looking for work in another field altogether, possibly medical aesthetician work.

I was only about two weeks away from starting classes to become a medical aesthetician when I received a telephone call from Dr. Ryan L. Brittingham, a dentist whom I had worked with years before. When I worked in Topeka (prior to my move to Las Vegas), the dentist often utilized the help of Dr. Brittingham when the schedule was too full.

I was impressed with Dr. Brittingham’s advanced skill level and his devotion to comprehensive dentistry. In the past, my sister worked as his dental assistant for a while. I followed his career even after I left Topeka. I knew that if I ever worked with a dentist again, it would be with Dr. Brittingham.

Of course, Dr. Brittingham wasn’t calling just to chitchat. He wanted to know if I would come on board at his practice and be his chief assistant. I was faced with a conundrum; I had already decided to leave dentistry altogether, and he placed a very attractive offer before me.

I told Dr. Brittingham of my dilemma and he asked me to take some time and give the offer some serious thought before answering. He said that I had a lot to offer the field of dentistry and it would be a shame for me to leave.

So I spent several days thinking and praying about it. Then I finally made a decision—I would take the job. However, I would only do so after a bit of negotiation.

The Terms
As part of the terms of agreement, I asked Dr. Brittingham to fix my teeth. A full mouth reconstruction would resolve the issues with my health. Now that my TMD was properly addressed, new crowns would “seal the deal” and make my bite perfect. I would no longer need to wear the splint anymore if I had the procedure done properly.

At my previous job, I had veneers placed on my teeth. At the time, I was happy with my smile. However, years later, my margins became visible due to my bite being off. As a result, they no longer had a pleasing appearance.

When I saw Arrowhead Elite restorations for the first time, I was immediately impressed with how natural looking and beautiful they were. As a long-time reader of Aesthetic Dentistry magazine, I always admired the smiles of the people who were featured. I dreamed of having a beautiful smile just like the cover models.

I guess you could say I was a bit of a diva! I wanted it all. I wanted to be pain free and I wanted beautiful teeth. But as a person who assists others in getting beautiful teeth every day, was that really too much to ask? I didn’t think so.

And fortunately, neither did Dr. Brittingham. He willingly and excitedly agreed to my proposal. And with the agreement finalized, I happily joined his team.

My Treatment Plan
As a part of the dental industry, I was uniquely situated to make specific requests regarding my treatment plan. I knew exactly what I wanted and how I wanted it done.

One difference in my case (as compared to a typical case) is that we left my temporaries on for about a year. We did so for a crucial reason; we wanted to make sure that my bite was perfect and that I was 100 percent pain free before placing anything permanently.

My life has completely transformed. The health conditions that plagued my life earlier are now completely resolved.

Ironically, some of the health problems in my twenties were because I had veneers placed on my teeth before the TMD was addressed. This essentially locked my teeth in an improper place and ended up exacerbating the existing problems. We didn’t want a reoccurrence of this issue, so taking the time to observe how the teeth would respond to the temporaries was necessary before placing the permanent restorations.

I remember the day that I received my temporaries. All along, I knew what I wanted, but to actually see the results when I looked in the mirror was a very emotional experience. Tears flowed—not tears of sadness—but tears of absolute joy.

My reaction caused my husband to start crying and then Dr. Brittingham and the assistant joined him! We had quite the waterworks spectacle going on in the office that day! It is a moment that I’ll always remember, the day that I received my new smile, even though it was only the temporaries.

I have often been asked what it was like to be the patient rather than the dental assistant during the prepping and seating of a full mouth case. To be honest, it was actually quite uneventful! I didn’t experience any moments of pain or discomfort during any part of the procedure. I didn’t have any fear or anxiety, either.

Everything worked smoothly. I chose a dentist who did his homework and took care of all the prerequisites before he worked on me. He visualized the case procedure many times before he actually performed the work, so the process went like clockwork. It felt like I sat down in the chair and only minutes later, I looked in the mirror at a set of brand new teeth.

But in reality, the procedure began in the morning, and a few hours later I was all done and walking out the front door. I only took one break during the procedure. Dr. Brittingham gave me a mild steroid that caused the muscles to relax. Then, he seated me in a comfortable chair and the assistant snuggled a blanket around me. I was totally relaxed and calm the entire time. I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal experience!

A True Metamorphosis
Over the years, I’ve witnessed several life-changing transformations by assisting full arch and full mouth reconstruction procedures. However, I honestly didn’t think that my life would be too different after getting my full mouth reconstructed. I was already a fairly outgoing and positive person who smiled a lot and thoroughly enjoyed life.

But since that time, my life has completely transformed. The health conditions that plagued my life earlier are now completely resolved, which has brought numerous benefits to my life.

When I see the before-and-after pictures and think of how much my life has changed, I know that it’s because of my new teeth. I look completely different. I feel completely different. I am completely different. My smile is big and bright and I exude confidence. I’m definitely not the same person.

My new smile inspired me to start taking better care of my health overall. When you feel crummy, you don’t feel like taking care of yourself. But when you feel great, you want to feel even better. That’s exactly what happened. After receiving my new smile, I started making some significant lifestyle changes. I stopped smoking. I started drinking more water and eating healthier foods. I started going to the gym.

At 40 years old, I entered my first fitness competition. I didn’t win, but I sure did turn some heads. There I was, up on the stage, competing against twenty-somethings who were half my age! I wouldn’t trade my smile and my new, improved health for anything.

The Voice of Experience
If you suffer from frequent headaches, don’t fool yourself into thinking that it is an unavoidable part of life. Visit a dentist who specializes in TMD and see if you, too, have the disorder. The splint therapy treatment wasn’t difficult or painful and it truly worked miracles for the quality of my life.

Also, if you have ever dreamed of doing a full mouth reconstruction, don’t wait. I love my new smile! All of the full mouth and full arch patients that I have worked with over the years feel the same way. The only common thread of regret seems to be that they all wish they’d done it sooner. And I agree!

This procedure can change your life in more ways than you can imagine. And who knows, maybe you’ll even end up on the cover of Aesthetic Dentistry one day, too!

(For the full case study use this link http://adentmag.com/triumph-over-tmd/)

Cover Story, Fall 2015

About the author

Amie Jane Leavitt has been working as a professional writer and editor since 1999. During that sixteen-year time period, she has written and edited extensively for both online and print media. Leavitt has worked as a member of the Aesthetic Dentistry editorial team since 2013 as one of the magazine’s main copywriters and editors.
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