My teeth bear testimony that it is perfectly possible to go through life in a body by Bond-O.
About six weeks ago, shooting pain in a tooth with an expired filling required an emergency root canal and a crown. The seizing nerve triggered nightly migraines for a week, possibly because I sleep on my side, which is the same side as the troubled tooth. It was a pretty normal sequence of diagnostic and treatment events: the X-ray revealed on abscess, the nerve was dead, I took antibiotics, a root canal and crown were done, and the tooth pain and migraines let up, at least for a few weeks.
Then, the same symptoms returned.
Flare-ups happen. My dentist took the sensibly conservative approach. I took more antibiotics and used some dental filler paste (I like to call it Bond-O) and felt better for a week.
Then the shooting pain worsened and I had another jag of nightly migraines. I poked around my teeth and realized the shooting pain was not coming from the crowned tooth, but from the adjacent tooth. I felt dumb not to have noticed this before. My dentist worked me in an hour after I called on Monday morning. I was positive I had another root canal and crown coming, which I regarded as a simple and complete resolution. It made sense, as the two fillings were the same vintage, 20 years old.
But life was not to be so simple. The X-ray revealed no abscess, and the nerve tested very much alive. The nerve test belongs in the arsenal of every war criminal.
My dentist’s wife happens to have fibromyalgia, as I do, and he is not dismissive of my pain. He knows it is real. He is motivated by the challenge of discovering its underlying cause and determined to resolve it. He applied a long-lasting Bond-O coating and promised to organize an appointment for an iCat scan. He suspected congested sinuses might be impacting nerves, causing the tooth pain and the migraines. Like everything else so far, that made sense. I have a history of maxillary sinus infections.
Why would life become simple so soon? I’d been home an hour when my dentist called to ask whether I could be at the surgeon’s office for the iCat scan at 2:00. It was about 12:30; of course I could. I was thrilled they could work me in on such short notice; everyone was being so wonderful. They think I have a brain tumor. Stop it.
My dentist called me at 5:30. He was bringing in a second surgeon to evaluate my scan. He would report back to me the following day. Definitely a brain tumor. No, they didn’t look at my brain. It must just be a sinus tumor….
God is merciful with hysterics. My mind calmed. I knew there had been nothing remarkable about my scan and my dentist called in a second guy because he knew there had to be an explanation for the shooting tooth pain and apparently related migraines. And, true as ever to his word, my dentist called me around 5:00 the following day, Wednesday. He had consulted exactly the right second guy.
The second consulting surgeon, noting no remarkable findings in the iCat, asked about my symptoms. What a concept for a diagnostician.
“Those are my symptoms exactly!” the surgeon told my dentist.
This surgeon has trigeminal neuralgia, and so, I now know, do I. So do 1 in 15,000 other people, and probably more, because many are misdiagnosed as having TMJ.
The trigeminal nerve starts at the base of the brain and spans the scalp, touching down behind the eyes, in the ears, and throughout the face and teeth. With TN, severe, acute, intermittent pain may occur in the scalp, ears, teeth, and face–accounting for the frequent sensation of having a tomahawk in my scalp, facial pain, weird ear pain, and the shooting pain in my tooth. Cold, talking, and stress are a few things on the list of triggers. Talking can give me migraines, but I try not to belabor the theme that people make me sick. The heroic surgeon’s TN is so severe that he can vomit or faint if a cold wind hits his teeth.
TN tends to occur after age 50, and tends to worsen with age. My silent years may well be in the very near distance. Or I might continue to make the daily decision that I would rather talk to my friends than have less pain. I prefer the resilient approach to taking the tack of conceding to pain. I can’t see letting pain control the important aspects of my life and its purposes, which might span more themes than I can know.
A diagnosis is somewhat helpful, because it is Something that causes perturbation. But a diagnosis is just an abstract attribution; it doesn’t cause anything, it doesn’t justify anything, it doesn’t provide on answer to any of the whys associated with the condition it identifies. It simply provides the language of a record. It also indicates treatment options, where they exist.
There are medications for TN. They are the same ones I have been given for fibromyalgia. I have been intolerant to all of them. Just one more “oh well.”
It’s nice to know something about the effect of cold on distressed nerve endings so that I can understand why I’m more comfortable wearing a hat in an air-conditioned room, and why talking or lying down can aggravate misfiring nerves and trigger migraines. It’s all interesting information, and information is a good thing to have. But I would have gained, or not gained, the same results heuristically, without a diagnosis.
So I have another Dx for my collection. The challenge is to find sanctifying ways to put it all to use to glorify the God who knows my frame and what I need for my ultimate good.