"Do you have the mumps?!" When my father jokingly said this to me the morning of my first day of summer, I have to say I was quite disheartened.
My mother did not make the situation any better, with her "you put on weight" comment. As a health-nut, this can be the most infuriating remark, even if it is true. In my case, I had no major weight fluctuation; in fact, my clothes all fit the same and the scale did not move up. I admit though, in photos, my cheeks looked huge and my face had taken on a rather squarish appearance.
Within my first few days of being home, my mom repeatedly exclaimed "your face shape has changed!"
"WTF does that mean…" I wondered. I had not done anything or knowingly picked up new habits that would change my face shape. I do not think I had ever been so perplexed and annoyed.
I looked at my calendar and saw an upcoming dentist appointment. I began to sense some soreness in the four corners of my mouth. Aha – I thought I had it figured. My wisdom teeth must be ready for the rite-of-passage extraction. Yes, I was going to have my brother film my funny moments under anesthesia. I was giddy about the potentially hilarious comments I might make.
The day of my dentist appointment could not arrive soon enough. Once at the dentist, I was shocked to learn that my wisdom teeth were still impacted. In fact, my x-rays showed that my wisdom teeth looked like those of a "14 or 15-year-old." Great. So, not only was my problem unresolved but I was a dental late-bloomer.
Upon further examination, the dentist declared that my jaw muscles were "hypertrophic." Ummm… hyper what?
The question "Do you clench at all?" got me thinking. When I am stressed, I do habitually clench my teeth. When I wake up in the morning, my jaw feels sore and over-worked. I thought it was normal. It had been "my normal" for quite some time. In that moment, I realized there was no hiding the stress of the past semester. My conscious and unconscious efforts to cope had led to some visible and unwanted consequences.
My dental diagnosis: temporomandibular joint dysfunction otherwise known as TMJ.
I felt relief to understand that there was a solid reason for my inflated chipmunk cheeks. My face shape had changed because I was developing muscles. When I said I wanted some gainzzz, I certainly did NOT mean in the face.
The treatment has required two major steps: a new and expensive bite guard as well as physical therapy. I had no idea that there were jaw specialists who could teach me so much and help me attain positive results.
My therapist has taught me exercises where I stick a clean finger in my mouth and massage out the corners where it feels super tight. She has also shown me how to roll out my neck because my neck and shoulder areas are also very tense. I have received acupuncture in my jaw and cheek too. The whole upper body is linked together and even having bad posture can affect TMJ. Each session has improved the way I feel immensely, and my face has returned to its normal size and heart shape.
I do not have the mumps. Thank God! I have learned the importance of listening to my family, who mean well. I have also learned the importance of paying attention to aches and pains in my body. I encourage all readers of this article to do the same.