The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The Downside of Missing School: My Experience With Multiple Jaw Surgeries

a life-changing misfortune

When I was in eighth grade, just a month shy of turning 14, I had all four of my impacted wisdom teeth extracted. I was given IV sedation for the procedure, as is common, and the oral surgeon apparently opened my mouth too wide. As a result, both of the discs in my jaw joints, known as the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), popped out of place and remained dislocated to the point that no method other than surgery could get them back into place. I could open my mouth only 4-6 millimeters, whereas a normal opening is 40 millimeters. My lower jaw deviated severely to the left.

the aftermath: chronic pain & surgeries

Although having something dislocated may sound easy to fix, TMJs are quite different as they are the most complicated and the most used joint in your entire body. All of the muscles surrounding it are attached to the point that a dislocated TMJ can caused pain all the way down your back. Having my TMJs damaged so severely has been extremely difficult to fix. Because I’m in pain literally 24/7 between my jaw bones grinding together, my muscles going into spasm and my nerves shocking me, I’ve been on a regimen of medicines to treat the different types of pain. After months of splints, physical therapy and less-invasive procedures, my doctors concluded that I needed surgery. Including that first surgery, I’ve had three surgeries total in New York and five other surgical procedures. I’ve now been told that I will likely need a full joint replacement of my left TMJ. Only time will tell, but even a joint replacement and all of the surgeries I’ve had aren’t a cure. My jaw is permanently damaged.


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I’m sure at some point or another, everyone has wished they could take a few days off from school, maybe even miss many days, especially if the absences were excused. Well trust me, a condition that allows you to do that is nothing you would ever want to experience. Here’s what my days are like, even when I push myself to school in extreme pain.

It’s 7:10 a.m. I’m walking into school with a smile on my face, maybe laughing with some friends before first period begins. Yet, just three hours earlier, I am awake, holding a heating pad on my face after swallowing pain killers and muscle relaxants. By 4:30 a.m., I know it’s going to be yet another sleepless night for me. At 6:55 a.m., I can’t open my mouth wide enough to fit even a spoon in my mouth, so I haven’t eaten, but I’m ready to leave for school, where nobody will know how I just spent my night.

While that may sound crazy, that’s my reality, and chronic pain has been my reality for over two years. When this happened in eighth grade, I was a student who never missed school; I had perfect attendance. Yet, the instant my wisdom teeth were out and my jaw was dislocated, the attendance office became a familiar place for me.

I’ve found that to many of my fellow students, the concept of chronic pain is pretty difficult to grasp. While it may seem like “it’s just your jaw,” imagine having the flu: you feel miserable for a week or so, and then it goes away. Yet, imagine if it never went away – that’s what chronic pain is like. I’ve even had people say “you’re so lucky, you just get to miss school and go to New York.”

I don’t even know what to say to something like that, considering my last trip to New York involved an anchor being drilled into my jaw bone to pull the disc into place, a fat graft being taken from under my belly button to be used as a cushion for my jaw joint and growths on my bone being removed. I then got to spend two fun nights in the hospital. Now that doesn’t sound so lucky to me.

As I recover from my recent surgery, who knows what my future will hold. I just have to take life day by day. Just maybe, things will finally improve and I can return to living the life of a normal teenager.

from wisdon teeth to new york:


Jan. 26, 2007

Wisdom teeth extraction
(both jaw joints dislocated)

March 26, 2007

Arthrocentisis (attempt to pop discs back into place) under IV sedation

Nov. 15, 2007

Arthroscopic surgery on both TMJs*

Feb. 12, 2008

Joint lubricant and cortisone injected into joints; Botox injected into jaw muscles and temples and manual manipulation to break up scar tissue under IV sedation*

June 24, 2008

Cortisone injections into joint and attempt to break up scar tissue under IV sedation

Oct. 20, 2008

Open-joint surgery on left TMJ*

Jan. 23, 2009

Joint lubricant and cortisone injected into joints and manual manipulation under IV sedation*

Feb. 13, 2009

Repeat of procedure above*

March 3, 2009

Botox series for muscle spasms(50+ shots)*

April 6, 2009

Open-joint surgery on right TMJ*

*Procedure/surgery done by surgeon in Staten Island, N.Y.

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