TMJ presents painful, frustrating problem

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- There have been several failed efforts to get people living with TMJ the help they need.

November is jaw joints/TMJ awareness month. TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint dysfunction, which means problems with jaw joints, bite or spasms in the facial muscles, which can cause headaches, neck, ear or facial pain.

Studies say a third of the population has some TMJ symptoms, yet what hurts even more is that insurance companies refuse to cover it.

"Constant, horrible pain," said Jill Johnson, a Clifton resident who has been suffering unimaginable pain for decades. "I've lost both my jaw joints; I have a partial implant on one side, and a total that they did on the other side that failed. That resulted in tremendous nerve damage."

Johnson uses a heating pad 17 hours a day to soothe her aching facial muscles and uses painkillers in what she calls a losing battle against her endless pain.

To date, Jill's surgeries and treatments have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"If I would've had some insurance and some help with preventative care, I wouldn't have got to this point," added Johnson.

But Medicare and Medicaid won't cover it. Jill has spent years contacting hundreds of doctors, politicians and insurance companies asking for help, but she is forced to rely on disability to get any help at all.

"It should be covered," said Dr. James M. Kennedy, D.D.S., F.A.G.D, a local dentist with DentoCranial Therapeutics, P.C. in Grand Junction, who specializes in TMJ.

People with severe TMJ, like Jill, can't work. "They always say the most difficult thing to treat in Medicine is a headache because there's so many wide and varying causes, and it has been said that upwards of 90 percent of headaches can be attributed to musculoskeletal problems, and that includes TMJ issues. The dental insurance says it's a medical problem, the medical insurance says it's a dental problem. If you treat it with some dental means such as rebuilding teeth or doing orthodontics; that part can be covered by your dental insurance," explained Kennedy.

Experts say chiropractors, physical therapists and massage therapists can help ease TMJ problems, but can't cure it.

"They're paying a lot of money every year for medications and doctor visits and other therapies that aren't correcting the problem. If it was covered and it could be treated and have the dentist be part of that, then I think it would help a lot of people clear up some problems, and healthcare costs could go down for that individual," added Kennedy.

But in the most severe cases like Jill's, patients will suffer for life. "Not only to live with so much constant pain, but to feel kind of hopeless, and helpless," said Jill.

There are several charities and dental surgeons who do pro-bono work to help those suffering from TMJ, such as Milton and Renee Glass of JJAMD, Inc, Dr. Randolph Robinson, Operation Smile, Face the Challenge, and many more. For more information on TMJ, visit the related links below.

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