Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tough to Swallow

I was in the 8th grade when I noticed that I was a little different.  Sitting across the table from a classmate, I was memorized by the way she ate a pickle.  She put the pickle in between the front of her top and and bottom teeth, then bit it off effortlessly.  It dawned on me that day that most people chew with their front teeth.  Maybe this seems simple to you, but for me, something like a pickle or sandwich means a lot of work.   If I tear into a yummy sandwich like my peers, the only thing I can pull off into my mouth is the bread.  To devour something so simple as a sandwich means double the time at the dinner table, and a lot of contorting and manipulating of food with my back teeth.  If I want to talk a lot during public meals, I often order soup or something of an easier nature.

Around my college years, I was told that my lower jaw was underdeveloped.  Every dentist and hygienist will attest to how "tiny" my mouth is.  This is why eating is a chore, I often have TMJ problems, pain, sore jaws, etc.  Most of time, the pain is manageable and flares up at friendly visits to the dentist, weather changes, singing, and strenous activity like running and jumping. (Hence, my valid hatred for jogging.)   I've been told the only solution for me is a 2 year process including braces and a surgery that breaks my lower jaw to bring it forward, and tens of thousands of dollars that I never seemed to muster up.

Although my jaw structure affects a lot, I have learned to live with it.  However the older I get, the more problems it causes.  The sleep apnea I have experienced over recent years is getting the best of me, and would be corrected if oral things were in their proper place and not obstructing my airways.  I have always thought relief was out of the question: even if we came up with the money that was well over the average yearly salary, the spending was hard to justify for me considering there are so many people who live in poverty and I have all I need.  And how in the world would I take time off from my kids to have my head all bandaged up?

And then yesterday happened.  A college friend in the dental field has been studying and training to find better orthodonic solutions for people like me.  At his office, a specialist looked at me and for the first time defined my real problem and a do-able solution.  It turns out that my underdeveloped lower jaw is not a root cause of anything, but a symptom of something that happened in my first year of life.  I have a massive tongue thrust (his words) and I never learned to swallow correctly.  My incorrect swallowing habits have caused my entire mouth to form incorrectly.  When infants are nursed or bottle fed on their backs or laying sideways, they have to overcompensate with their tongue to keep from choking.  Most children self-correct by the time they are autonomous, but not me and many others.  Decades ago, there were not those helpful lactation consultants in the hospital training new moms and babies to get the eating thing done properly.  So yesterday, I learned WHY my mother had trouble nursing me.  I learned that "normal" people swallow with their teeth together.  When the specialist had me close my mouth tight and swallow, I gagged.  Yes friends, there is actually a medical reason my mouth stays mostly open :) It turns out that my ability to lay down flat in bed and drink liquids comfortably is not a special skill set.  It turns out this same swallowing malfunction is why we currently have our oldest daughter in braces, why she and I are the last ones to be sitting at the table, and why she has struggled with reflux from day one.  Furthermore, my daughter's reflux is influencing her asthma.

All this, because our tongues don't do what they are suppose to do.

Although I hate being physically analyzed and publicly announcing the insecurities it took me years to overcome, I want you to know for your own kids.  If caught early, this problem is a much easier fix.  Also, I figured that writing in one blog was easier than explaining what may be happening to me in the coming years.  There is a solution for me and I am so, so happy about it.  It will take about 3 years, but with braces, retainers, therapy of sorts, and exercises on my part, I will have a noticably different face.  The structure of my mouth and jaws will reshape.  My husband will feel like he's kissing a different woman.  I have to retrain the way I eat, drink, swallow, and breathe (you mean all of you people actually breathe through your NOSE?).

Perhaps the scariest part of this whole deal is that Lord willing, in a few years I will have a bigger mouth. :)  Now THAT is tough to swallow.