FOX23s investigative reporter Janna Clark dealt with this problem for years and finally found a solution. Now she hopes by telling her story she can help others.
For nine years Clark suffered with pain in her jaw joints, known as TMJ, short for temporomandibular joint.
She tried wearing a nightguard her dentist made for her.
“Generally they get in a splint and it all goes away,” said Dr. Caudle.
Tulsa TMJ specialist Dr. Terry Bennett said the only option was surgery.
“You had a big deflection to the right side so when you opened it went like this,” explained Bennett, looking back at images of Clark from two years ago.
A CT scan showed the problem.
“I looked at you and said, Janna, we got a problem,” he said.
Turns out, the soft-tissue discs that move with the jaw joints had disintegrated. MRI images show Clark had ground down her joints and the bones were fusing together.
After research, Clark found Dr. Larry Wolford in Dallas, a maxiofacial surgeon who specializes in fixing TMJ problems.
“Your joints I would describe as a real mess,” said Wolford.
Wolford drew a blueprint of his surgical plan for Clark, and then used a computer model to show the changes on a model of her skull.
His suggestion was a double joint replacement with prosthetic titanium joints.
He said her upper and lower jaws needed to be repositioned too. Her lower jaw had receded so far it was cutting off her airway, creating the risk of dying while sleeping from lack of air.
Dr. Mike Steffen, an orthodontist in Edmond put braces on Clark because her teeth had moved.
Steffen used a computer to show Clark how her teeth had shifted. Since the discs in her jaw were gone, the ligaments were wearing away.
“You see the condyle dissolve away. Which is what happened to you, and your whole face changes,” he said.
After a year of orthodontics, Clark was ready for surgery at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.
The surgery was eight hours, then recovery.
After a five-day hospital stay Wolford monitored Clark’s progress for two weeks.
During that time Clark couldn’t move her mouth, and couldn’t feel most of her face. She used a special tablet to write on to communicate.
Clark was also on a liquid diet and used a syringe, since she couldn't open her mouth.
Feeling slowly came back to Clark’s face. She had to use a cane because of medication she was on while healing.
It took three months before she was cleared to drive and return to work. Even today she is still healing, still regaining feeling and rebuilding stamina.
Clark’s orthodontist and surgeon said she’s progressing.
“I believe you're doing exceptionally well, you're ahead of the curve,” said Wolford.
“You're a very driven patient, you've done everything we've asked, you've been very brave about the whole thing,” said Steffen.
Wolford took photos three months after the surgery and showed Clark the before and after pictures.
“Oh my gosh, that's so crazy. I look like a different person. What strikes me is I know how that person felt. I know how I felt. I just look so sick. I know how much pain I was in. I'm sorry. It's hard to look at them,” she said.
Clark said now she looks more like she used to 10 years ago. She said she’s happy to be living without pain.
If you're suffering from TMJ and you'd like to contact her doctors, here is contact information:
Dr. Larry Wolford, surgeon in Dallas,214-828-9115
Dr. Terry Bennett, TMJ specialist in Tulsa, 918-528-8651
Dr. Mike Steffen, orthodontist in Edmond, 405-341-2587
Dr. Carolyn Caudle,Tulsa dentist, 918-582-3788