This past week I have seen a number of new patients come into our office and I am hearing the same old story: “I went to a neurologist…I went to the ENT…. I went to my GP…. I went to my acupuncturist” and on and on and on. And then I sit down directly in front of them and just look at them. That’s when the same thing happens again and again -they all seem to have the left ear higher than the other, one eye is higher than the other, or you can visually observe their jaw pops out to one side when they open their mouth. It is sometimes so painfully obvious that these people have cranial bone distortions that I just shake my head and wonder why this was missed with all these other doctors.
I guess that these people have been to their doctors and the symptoms are being treated, not the root cause. You see, dear readers, when a person’s face is very obviously distorted- and you can see this very easily if you take the time to look – then this is why they have that head or neck pain. Just like if a car has been in an accident and the car’s frame is bent, well, that’s just like a person’s skull being bent. When the frame, or skull, is bent then the vehicle or the person just cannot travel down the road very well. Things are shaky and if that vehicle is a person, then pain usually happens over time since things are no longer lined up properly and the body is fighting with itself just to walk down the road. Does that make sense? I certainly hope so!
Next year, in 2018, I will be teaching to a handful of general dentists and I hope that they will stop being a regular dentist and take a look at the whole person instead of just the teeth. It is so important to realize that if the hips are out of place, then likely the skull will be a bit twisted as well, and this can lead to lots of discomfort throughout the entire body. So, when the dentist is preparing to crown all your back teeth, stop and have your whole body assessed for any irregularities that might prevent those crowns from working as well as they should. When the hips are not level, this might affect the shoulders and the neck which would mean things are not balanced well enough to do all those crowns. So buyer, or patient, beware when you make major changes to the system!
First thing – I hope you appreciate that I make the effort to at least try to come up with these inviting and interesting titles! Just kidding. I do hope that by blogs are not too boring and do help you a bit to understand what TMD treatment is all about. In today’s blog I would like to discuss someone who I just met the other day. She lives in New England and she came here to the DC area to see me after some very frustrating treatments. I did my exam and discovered that her right jaw joint was crunching like crazy- sorry for all the big words- and it sounded like broken glass in the joint. Then I noticed her left ear/eye/eyebrow were all quite elevated relative to the right side. Her xrays that she brought showed severe condylar (jaw bone) degeneration as they were totally flattened out and sharp on the edges.
Now the interesting portion of our program begins. She reported she already had both discs surgically removed from the TM joints- ooopps! She was not wearing a surgical splint to protect the joints so she was likely bone on bone inside the joints (the condyles were worn down due to this) – another ooopps! So here she comes along and wants me to fix all of this. OK folks, I’ll admit I can figure out what is going on, but to fix what is so terribly damaged might not be possible and I told her this. She showed me photos of how someone had put brackets on her teeth in an effort to pull them together. She came in with one of those huge binders holding all her data and I was amazed at how she had been to California, Florida, and all over the US talking to various doctors.
It was most interesting that she said she would gladly consider surgery if I thought it might make a difference. It was then that I explained why the previous surgery did not turn out so good: her condyles or jaw bones were not even at all. It’s kind of like saying the front-end alignment is way off on the front tires of your car. Just putting on new tires won’t help in the slightest -you need to align the front end first! Well, your body is the same – those cranial bones and jaw joint sockets need to be level and aligned to get a good surgical result. This lady had surgery done, yet none of the doctors involved had spotted the misaligned cranial bones, so nothing could work properly anyway! After hearing all this, she said she now understood why her shoulders were uneven, why her back hurt, why her face looked distorted, and why there was so much pain!
As all of you dear readers already know, the previous doctors focused in on her teeth and barely even noticed the joints. They completely missed the distorted cranial bones. Even if this lady wants to do surgery, I told her there is no point in doing this now- maybe later if we can level out the bones and get the joints functioning better, then perhaps it might be something to consider. So that’s it for today folks -the message is that you need to take the time to analyze and diagnose, but isn’t that the same message I put out there every day? You get it. You got it. Good.
Well folks, I am sitting here at my desk on December 29, 2017, at around 09:00 – that’s around 9am or so. As I reflect back on the year, I realize we had some ups and downs, but overall we did great and really have made a difference in many peoples’ lives! I am grateful for my team -these ladies have worked hard and have well earned a few days off to relax and enjoy. I have felt many personal gains this year as my studies into osteopathy and cranial bones continues. I am honored that my friend, Dr. Logan Cooper, will be in our office every Friday from now on. Our patients really appreciate his work and are happy he is on board. We now can have our patients experience a full body adjustment with him, then jump into my room to balance their appliances to that new position- it makes a big difference!
This coming year I will be teaching in Toronto on various ALF and general TMD therapies. I give all credit to my mentors: Dr. Brendan Stack and Dr. Darick Nordstrom who have been instrumental in my training. This year I lectured with both of these famous people and I must say it was quite an honor! Dr. Stack and I go way back in our training in the area of TMD. And earlier this year, Dr. Nordstrom called me out of the blue and asked me to co-lecture with him in Norway -that was a great experience! The only bad part of the trip was that I only could go for three nights so I stayed in the hotel and went to the classroom each day and never made it to Oslo- it was a whirlwind of a trip!
A similar experience happened going to Dubai this year. I taught at the dental school and visited with a VIP patient and left after only two nights there. The 17 hour flight had my head in such a spin that I had no idea what day of the week it was. But it was a great opportunity and I think we made the people there much more aware of what TMD is all about. I will never forget how I ran around on stage for three hours doing my lecture and ended up being so soaked in sweat that I was embarrassed and simply could not drink enough water to cool down! The trips to Norway, Korea, and the local DC trainings were all great and helped to spread the word.
On the home front here in the US, we made a lot of changes to our protocols in order to help our patients even more. I changed my MRI order to include other images to look for concussion problems along with instabilities in the jaw bones that would affect our surgical cases. We also now take a specific xray prior to our MRI consults so that I can better explain how the cranial bones will affect the treatment plan. It’s kind of like having your mechanic explain that the front end of the car might need an alignment before you buy those new tires. This makes our treatment planning process smoother and much easier for our patients to understand.
I am really happy to have a most excellent network of doctors to work with every day. My surgeon, Dr. Eugene Gregory, has done surgery on thousands of joints with an extremely high success rate. My ENT buddy- Dr. Michael Abidin- is doing frenectomies and tonsil removals on our patients who need these services. I have local dentists like Dr. Rodney Mayberry and Dr. Eva Pleta who understand our work and are very careful and precise with our patients. You already know about the wonderful Dr. Logan Cooper who does some brilliant physical therapy and osteopath treatment. Now, I also work with a top notch chiropractor near the Baltimore area- Dr. Jean Thompson – this lady knows her stuff and every single patient I send to her is impressed with her skill set. And last but not least is our very local (in the same building) Madhura Gurjar- a physical therapist who has a really good handle on the difficulties in treating TMJ patients. Overall, I am very lucky to have all these doctors on board.
Another fun (or simply crazy ) project is that I wrote a bill for the Virginia legislature that if it passes will force insurance companies to cover TMJ treatment. Right now, they weasel out of paying by calling our treatment ‘experimental’. Well, dear readers, there is nothing experimental about having someone get rid of headaches that have been there for decades. If all goes well, I will propose the bill to the legislature and answer any questions they might have. I generally cannot stand politics, but in this case, if it helps you folks get the coverage you deserve, then it will be worthwhile!
As you can see it has been a busy year. I am actually going to try and take a vacation next year -it is much needed! To all my readers, thank you and God bless you all!
Today I would like to write about why breathing is so important to the human body. Too many people in this country have become mouth breathers and this creates many problems for their bodies. When we breathe through our mouth, the air is not as humid as if we breathed through our noses. In addition, that same air is not warmed up, which is better and safer for our lungs. Another consideration is that breathing through the mouth does not allow the air to be well filtered like it would if it went through your nose. For all these reasons, and more, mouth breathing is not a good thing to do!
I have attended classes over the years taught by Patrick McKeown, of the infamous Buteyko Clinic out of Ireland. Patrick is a most brilliant practitioner who is able to help athletes and regular folks to breathe better so that their bodies heal and stay healed. Just one of the things Patrick teaches is that you should have longer breaths- what this means is that instead of breathing in and out at a fast rate, try to breathe in and then hold that breath, then breathe out and wait a bit before doing the next breath and make the in between breath intervals longer. Although the process is quite complicated, in simple terms (which are about all I can handle), let’s say you only have 10 million breaths available in a lifetime. So don’t use them up all at once- make them longer and increase the intervals between breaths so that you live longer.
Another thing that is taught at the Butekyo Clinic is something called ‘control pause’ breathing. What this is all about is that you take in a breath, breathe it out, pinch your nose, and time how long before you need to take that next breath. If your CP (control pause) is less than 20 seconds, more than likely you have some sort of breathing problem- apnea, asthma, snoring, fatigue, etc. If your CP is 20-40 seconds you are in decent shape, but a trigger could make things worse- allergies for example. If your CP is over 40 seconds, you are in good shape- no worries mate! So what is your CP? Mine happens to be in that 20-40 second range. I have sleep apnea so this correlates. Oh well. This means I need to lose weight, get in shape, and take better care of myself.
Many thanks to Patrick McKeown of the Buteyko clinic for all his great information and helping people achieve better health!
We will be hosting a live Facebook video with Ed Harrold on December 19th.
Ed Harrold will have tips on better breathing!
Facebook Live on December 19th: https://www.facebook.com/jeffbrownofvirginia
Sometimes you just have to come up with an analogy to make a person understand what is going on. And sometimes you have to come up with more than one analogy to REALLY get them to understand. In my little world of treating TMJ disorders, I make it a point to try and get our patients to understand why they have a problem long before I explain how to treat it. Recently, I revamped my MRI order with the radiologist to include measuring condylar angulation relative to the central axis. What that means in English is that I am having the radiologist measure how ‘in line’ the jaw bones are relative to the middle of the skull. It’s kind of like if you take your car to the mechanic and they explain whether or not your front end alignment is ‘in line’ or not!
The reason for the front end alignment angular measurement is that I need to know if surgery may be an option one day, and this helps me to understand how effective it might be. Let me explain. The articular disc sits on top of the condyle (jaw bone) and if the two condyles do not work in unison with each other -i.e. if they are tipped differently, then putting that disc on top of the condyle may or may not work too well. Just like the wheels on the front of your car- if one is turned right and the other is turned left, then two new tires will just wear out very quickly. If your mechanic is honest with you, he/she will not sell you two new tires- he/she will explain that a front end alignment will make your new tires last so much longer.
Well, dear readers, this is where you need a good TMJ mechanic (please excuse the analogy). If you begin treatment and those condyles are angulated at 67 degrees on the left side, and 87 degrees on the right side, then surgery is far less likely to work and the patient should know this. For this reason, you need to explain to the patient that we need to use our ALF appliances for a year or two to get the cranial bones re-aligned. With all good luck, this will level out the sockets for the jaw joints and allow the condyles to reshape and re-align to a more balanced angulation. It’s good to be balanced.
This is one of my short series on “It’s all about me today”. Look folks, I cannot work miracles. It’s as simple as that. Example: About a year and a half ago I met a new patient whose discs were terribly out of place and I felt really good that I could help him. Well, we never heard from him again. My team does reach out to see if the consult went OK, if there were any questions, or if there was anything we could do to help him figure this out. He made no effort to call back. My guess is it was all about money most likely. Well, the other day he called the office and basically demanded to come in at that time because his jaw had ‘locked open’ as he said. He was in pain, could not eat, and just plain miserable.
My schedule was totally booked up and as you know, dear readers, I do not double book for any reason – I respect your time and that’s how it is, so I will not jam someone into the schedule. Needless to say, he was not happy that we were not willing to just drop everything and see him immediately. This is what irks me I guess- he put off treatment for whatever reason and just because he wants to be seen right away, he figures we have to stop seeing the patients we are already scheduled to see. This thinking is kind of rude I believe. We gave him plenty of chances to take care of the problem while it was so much easier and yet he decided not to take advantage of the opportunity.
Maybe part of the problem is that he just did not understand how serious the damaged discs can be when they are badly displaced? Maybe it was all about money. But, if money was the issue, and now the problem is a lot worse, it’s only going to cost a lot more to fix the problem at this point in time. It’s like if your mechanic says “Hey lady, there’s an oil leak you should deal with” and you put it off. Then one day the whole engine is blown and the car is ruined. You should have dealt with it back then but just did not want to pay the price and now it’s exponentially more expensive!
As I started with earlier- please help ME now- deal with the problems before they become more difficult and more expensive and we are all upset with what we now have to deal with. If your jaw joints hurt, pop, click – LISTEN to the signals- they are telling you they need help and you need to do something about it. Inevitably I will get a call on the holiday from one of these folks who I met, talked to, made a plan with, and they simply did not care to deal with it, yet on Thanksgiving day, they will call me and expect me in the office. Will these folks ever change? Doubtful. Thanks for listening to me rant and rave today!
Don’t you just love it when a story starts out with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. Well, not today folks. It was a bright and sunshiney morning at our office and I was looking forward to meeting the new patient on our schedule. She flew in from Canada to come see me since several people had told her she had no choice. I must admit, the visit with her was frustrating, angering, and just plain maddening at times. It truly was a conundrum! Let me explain. The moment I sat down at my bar stool, and she sat down at hers, I could tell what was wrong. Her complaint was that she had been to many practitioners and showed me her appliances. Dear readers, I tried to be nice, I really did, but on the inside I’m both laughing and disgusted with what I saw. She showed me all upper appliances, and they all were designed to let the jaw slide back into the joints. It was wrong in so many ways.
As many of you already know, you never, ever, make an upper appliance on a person who can only open to 30mm – sorry, I forgot that little tidbit earlier – she could barely open her mouth. So here she has this upper device that locks in the maxillary bone and blocks cranial motion. Not a good idea. We talked about all this and I think she understood what was going on. And then I showed her the very obvious cranial distortions- her mastoid on the left and sphenoid on the left were terribly elevated compared to her right side. And today she looked worse than her ‘before’ pictures that they did a year or so ago. In other words, wearing the appliances on her upper jaw had made things worse and more distorted.
Then to top it all off, her tongue was all scalloped, she was tongue tied, and her palate was very highly vaulted. This means she could not get good nasal breathing going so her body could not heal very well. These are the things that need to be discovered and noted in a very first initial visit folks! Needless to say, I did my best not to berate the other doctors who had seen her in the past…heck, I’m nowhere near perfect…but if you say you are going to treat these patients, at least know what you are talking about!
So in this initial 45 minute exam, I was able to give this young woman some good guidance. Maybe I over whelmed her, maybe she will never come back again because I overloaded her with information. Maybe she will return and allow me to further diagnose once the MRI has been done. A lot of maybe’s here.
As a patient, I can only imagine going to so many doctors and getting such a divergence of opinions and treatment plans. The one thing that upset me the most was that NOT ONE of them did an MRI to understand what was going on internally, and then some idiot surgeon was suggesting surgery because that is what he does! This patient (as the MRI showed later in the day) has anterior displacement of the discs in the jaw joints, so if the surgeon moved her jaw forward, this would put the jaw so forward that it would actually pinch the discs even worse and make the situation more painful. Not a great way to treat your patient, is it?
As you can tell by now, I am a bit frustrated with the various approaches toward TMJ treatment. To help out, I have just written a bill for the Virginia State legislature to have insurance companies cover this treatment more completely. TMJ disorder ruins peoples’ lives and if there was better insurance coverage, more people would be healthier and lead better lives. That’s my mission folks- stay tuned for more!
As many of you dear readers already know, I wear a sleep appliance at nighttime because I have sleep apnea. A few years back, I used to snort, gasp, stop breathing, and snore every night. It drove my wife crazy! Then I had a sleep test – after falling down and crying when I read the report, I knew I could not wear a CPAP since so many of my own patients tell me they cannot either, so I had a sleep appliance made. It’s great, I wear it every night, and feel 120% better with it than without it.
The interesting thing about CPAP is that it truly can save your life if you can handle wearing it every night. Did you know that our own government has dictated that a successful use of the CPAP is defined as the patient wearing it 4 hours per night, 5 days per week. That’s right folks- it’s considered successful by our government if you wear it 20 hours per week. So during the work week you are doing fine if you can breathe about half the night and on weekends you take a break from breathing basically. I am not sure what the logic is in that, but when it comes to the government there might be no logic involved. The reality is that you are supposed to get 8-9 hours sleep per night, which tallies up to 56-63 hours per week. So according to government standards, you are doing fine if you get around 1/3 of that amount when using the CPAP.
I have a problem with government statistics in this case. I believe that sleep is very important to people at all ages. Without good sleep, your body does not recharge the hormones needed to be healthy. Without good sleep, you are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease. So why would anyone cut corners on good sleep? When I wear my appliance at night, and I wear it EACH AND EVERY night, I feel well rested the next day and can handle being in my office for my normal 10 hour days (that’s right folks, I don’t have a life). Would any of you like to go to a TMJ doctor who uses a CPAP and only gets about half the normal sleep they are supposed to get?
The message here is that if you think you have sleep apnea, or your bed partner, or your Mom or Dad have concerns that you might – get a sleep study done! You just might save a life. And if the CPAP keeps you alive enough, go for it, but keep in mind that compliance is not all that great whereas a properly fitted sleep appliance might provide for some better relief. Sleep well!
It all really started a few years ago when the University of Virginia hospital center confirmed that the brain really does have lymph nodes that really do drain. During the course of the day, your brain builds up waste particles called ‘Beta Amyloids’ which are irritants to the brain. These waste particles directly correlate to problems like Alzheimer’s, ADD, OCD, and even autoimmune disorders. Researchers at the University of Texas have gone so far as to explain that this build up of amyloid particles also directly correlates to slowing of brain processing, reasoning, and memory! This does not bode well for those of us who are ‘backed up’ so to speak.
So how do you ‘unclog’ and ‘open up the drain’ you wonder? Well, I have an idea dear readers! The ALF appliance is well known, well known to those of us who know about it, that is, for not only leveling the cranial bones but for increasing the flows within the skull. And this means blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and lymph. Basically, the ALF appliance gently nudges open the restrictions in the cranial bones and allows everything to move more freely. Think of it like this: if a car has been in an accident and the frame is bent a little, this means the brake lines might be twisted and restricted and so the brakes don’t work as well. As soon as the frame is ‘unbent’, then the crimped up brake hose can work properly, the fluids flow well, and the car is under better control. This is what the ALF does- it lines things up better and ‘unkinks’ the hoses in your skull- the blood vessels, nerves, and lymph drainage.
So now that you know how to unclog those drains, get out there and make it happen!
In our office at Sleep and TMJ Therapy, we are finding that there is a little problem starting. As many of you dear readers already have learned, the insurance companies have quite nicely taken control and are now denying needed surgeries and final braces or crowns, or whatevers, to finish your case and be done with me. What this means is that more and more of my patients are never going to be finished with me and will forever be wearing appliances to ‘maintain’ their position of reduced pain. I truly DO NOT want this! I want you to be able to finish up with me and go about your life, I really don’t want you stuck with me forever! As Dr. Stack used to say, it would be great to finish up so you are not “stuck to a health care provider”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I truly love working with all our patients, but since we are able to help more than 80% (my team says 90%) get better, this means that more and more are going to continue wearing one or two appliances for a long time to come because the insurance carrier will not pay for them to finish treatment properly. In other words, once the patient is better while wearing their appliance(s), there is usually no insurance coverage for either the surgery or the braces to finish up their case. What a shame. Because of this, many of my patients will forever wear their devices to stay free of the past pain they suffered and I will forever have to maintain them. It’s like a plane circling the airport forever – it just needs a bit of fuel (in my case the appliance needs periodic adjustments) to stay there.
Already, I have had a few people worry because their family might be moving to Arizona or Timbuktu, and they are not sure how to keep up with the maintenance. Some people hope their appliances will last forever- and I’ve already seen several that are 10 years old -but that is not likely. So why won’t the insurance companies just pay for the microsurgery and be done with the problem? It’s all about money- surgery costs much more than the premiums paid, so if they ‘cover’ too many people, it cuts corporate profits. There, I said it- it’s all about money and NOT about taking care of you, the patient! What this approach to corporate profits has done is to shift the burden of care and payment to both me and the patient. You see, I will not abandon my patients, dear readers, and when someone is in ‘forever maintenance’ with me, and they break their device(s), I make new ones at a huge discount- YUP, the insurance companies have now stuck it to me and they are probably laughing all the way to the bank.
So what do we do? I am not really sure. I have made my own patients aware of this problem, and asked them to talk to their HR directors, but it does not seem to matter. The insurance companies have decided to not pay for TMJ treatment and have transferred that responsibility back to the patient, and to me as well. Still- I won’t go down without a fight – I will always keep making my patients aware and always ask them to keep the fight going.
As a practitioner who uses the amazing ALF appliance every day of the week, I continue to see this little wire making changes in people’s lives all the time. This morning one of our patients from Ohio was here and reported in about 4 months that all headaches and most of his back pain were already gone. He came to me very skeptical to begin with – not sure if all this ‘ALF stuff’ was for real. At 2 months into treatment he was thinking that maybe this was not going to work at all. At 3 months he noticed a day ‘here and there’ as he said, and the headaches were not there. Now at 4 months, he is a believer!
Our friend from the Ukraine, who unfortunately cancels frequently on me, is still looking incredibly beautiful just about six months into treatment. She is a busy woman who travels, has a full time job, and children to manage. When I met her originally, she really looked beaten up a bit, kind of hardened. And now she just looks plain gorgeous- and I told her so! She just smiled and said “thank you so much”- but it was true- she looked really great. When I talked to Dr. Nordstrom about some of these cases, he explained that what was going on was that the central nervous system was now working better than it has in years and as the cranial bones opened up more, things simply flowed better. What this also meant was that the cerebrospinal fluid could more readily nourish the cells in the skull and the lymphatic system could now drain the crud out of the brain much more readily as well.
This afternoon I have a college kid coming in who told me last month that he was now able to cut his nails. That’s right- two months ago his nails looked long and ugly -they had not been cut in many months because he could not handle the sensory input that the cutting sensation produced. Now, the nails are looking good and not long and ugly!
Just about an hour ago a young man came in and told me this is the best he has felt in a very long time – he said ‘things are coming together’. A year ago, he was not able to cut his hair because it hurt he said. Now he is well groomed and feeling better about himself.
All of these folks have one thing in common – they all wear ALF appliances. All of them are happily, yet slowly, opening and expanding the cranial bones and increasing the flow of cranial fluids. And when the fluids pump happily, the body responds well, and the whole person runs better. That’s the way it is!
This morning I am doing my usual prepping for the day- reviewing patient records, reading MRI’s, and seeing if the schedule is looking good. As I do my review, I notice there is a note on one patient- she is very upset she could not get in sooner! As I look into her notes, turns out she cancelled her regular appointment a month ago (at the last moment) and said she would call back when she is ready. And in the meantime, she broke her appliance and now demands to come in on an emergency basis! Well folks, this is what happens when you don’t keep up with the program- the appliance wears down or grooves get beaten into it from clenching/grinding and just plain normal use. This is why it is so important to keep up with regular appointments. This way we can make sure the device is smooth, properly structured, and easy to wear so that emergencies do not often happen.
The other problem with cancelling at the last minute is that we saved that slot on our schedule just for you, and when you cancel at the last minute, it is not usually possible to replace you with someone else at the last minute. Now we have to use more time later on to accommodate you which blocks up time for someone else who could have used that time slot. You see folks, I do not do what the airlines do- I do NOT overbook and bump people off my flights! I honor their time and I would hope it is not too much to ask that they respect our time as well. Most of the time it works really well, I must admit, but when these last minute cancellations happen, it means that we have forever lost that time and now must re-create it later on which means more people becoming upset that they cannot get in when they want to. Does that make sense?
For example- yesterday I had 2 people cancel at the last minute, which seems to happen now and then. I get it, people are busy, they sometimes have work emergencies or last minute trips. But we lost that time and now have to make time for those folks in the coming weeks. Their time was NOW, not weeks from now, but they now transfer the problem to my scheduler who is being pressure to ‘make it work’ and somehow create time when there is none. One of the people who cancelled has done this three times already so in this case we cannot give her another appointment. She is welcome to call on a day when she really thinks she will come in, but by now her joints are probably in bad shape due to all the delays and cancellations, and the treatment protocol is disrupted greatly. She already complained to my manager that we are not being very accommodating and demands we see her on another day of her choosing. Well, nice idea, but we already had to reschedule other folks who did the same thing and are now taking time from other people. It’s a conundrum!
As I think about all this, I believe I understand some of what these people are thinking – that I am just like all the other doctors out there who over book, knowing people won’t show or will cancel, so who cares if I don’t show? Well folks, I can tell you that I have never done that and never will- I respect your time and all I ask is that you do the same.
In the past weeks of August in 2017 marks a shift in my education that will forever change how I see things with my patients. I spent five days with Dr. James Bronson at the ALF Educational Institute and then one day later flew to Oslo, Norway, and taught side by side with Dr. Darick Nordstrom, the inventor of the ALF appliance. This past week has now brought me to over 500 hours of actual training with the ALF appliance, and now I am into my fourth teaching trip with the ALF. Now, when I teach, I do NOT do cases like Dr. Nordstrom does- he is doing ALF on patients with severe cleft palates and the required surgery along with it. This, I admit to dear readers, ‘is not my cup of tea’ as they say. He was, however, impressed just a bit that we see many Tourette’s and Parkinsons cases. Dr. Nordstrom is an amazingly brilliant man and lives in a world where he makes his own appliances, by his own hand, and does research on a regular basis. He has even developed an amino acid supplement protocol that I would like to offer to our patients with tremors!
So back to the title of this blog. I have had it further ingrained into my rather thick cranium that a patient often needs a bit more than just what the ALF can do, although, based on this morning’s patients, we are doing pretty darn good just with the appliance therapy alone! So now I must put on my humble hat and admit that we could, and should, be doing even better. What that means is that many of the patients I see could do even better if we use a myofunctional therapist during the course of treatment- referred to as ‘MFN’ therapy. What this entails is exercises to keep your tongue working correctly (and believe me, MOST of us have poor tongue posture and movement). In addition, many people have a forward head posture, twisted neck, etc. so they would also need an osteopath – a ‘D.O.’ to help with distorted cranial bones, uneven leg length, out of place hips, and cervical spine (neck) problems.
In my world, I see people every day who have an amazing variety of ‘whole body’ problems that need to be dealt with. It is simply not enough for them to wear a couple devices in their mouth. Sometimes it will take a lot more effort and time to help them get better. And sometimes, about 10% of them simply do not get better without surgery or similar interventions. Some patients are simply in such bad shape that I cannot help them- they end up getting frustrated and angry because they spent ‘all this money’ and expect results. Unfortunately, sometimes there are just too many ‘imperfections’ in the person to help them get better. I see this when a person has been in an accident or two, was in a bar fight, or was T-boned while on a bicycle and a drunk driver outright nailed them. Yes- these are all my cases folks- and they are all quite difficult to fix due to the extent of damage.
I find it interesting that when people come to me, they expect me to fix all their problems with just an appliance or two. When I explain that they also need body work- i.e. an osteopath or physical therapist – many of them just will not do what needs to be done. This is due to cost or time in most cases. But I can tell you that when I see their xrays and their neck is all twisted up or their cranial bones are completely uneven, then I know they need that bit of ‘extra’ help- it’s as simple as that! And when the patient finally listens and does the required ‘extra’ therapy, that is when they get the results they are looking for – almost every time! So when I ask, request, demand, or simply advise that you also do myofunctional therapy or osteopath or physical therapy work, please take heed and just do it!
This week I had two young women in the office to deliver their ALF appliances. One of them asked me why snoring was so bad since her boyfriend ‘snored like a banchee’. As I explained the problems that are associated with snoring- there might be sleep apnea issues that lead to heart disease and diabetes, I noticed the woman’s father was turning red in the face. His daughter then told me that her Dad snored really bad too. Busted! He then said “I guess I should come see you too” and about all I could do was agree with him.
As many of my dear readers will recall from a previous blog, sleep is absolutely critical to your health! It allows your hormones to recharge at night and allows your body to heal from the stress of the day. And to top it off, if you snore, then you are more likely to have sleep apnea, not to mention there could be damage to the carotid artery from all that vibration. Whew…that’s a lot of stuff going on! The situation with children can be even worse- when a child snores, they are depriving their little body of the oxygen needed for body growth AND neurological development. And if they don’t get that oxygen at the proper time when their brain is developing, there will be a high price to pay as they get older. In other words, deal with the snoring NOW, not later!
When I use the ALF appliance, I find that in almost all cases the child or the adult sleeps better after just a few months. The ALF was invented by Dr. Darick Nordstrom nearly 35 years ago and yet very few doctors have any idea what it can do. Too many people come to see me after they have had nasal surgery- balloon plasty, turbinate reduction, septum straightening – and we could have avoided a lot of these if only we started with the ALF first. I was actually in Norway last week and had the honor of teaching side by side with Dr. Nordstrom and we met about a dozen or so local patients who needed some help. As it turned out, most of them had had some form of surgery and it simply did not help all that much. In all cases, our plan was to get them into ALF’s to ‘unwind’ that which had been done to them. I guess the term ‘unwind’ is something I say frequently, but it is very accurate in explaining what we do – I take people who are all tightened up and get them looser over time – and this gives them better health.
As I start this new day, it looks like I will be meeting around six new patients. This makes me realize that we are indeed getting the word out there- the ALF is working well and we have started to spread the word so to speak. As I lecture more and more each year, I see other doctors are beginning to learn that the ALF is a great concept and now that it has been in use for 35 years or so, it might one day become mainstream. I look forward to being part of this!
Hello dear readers- I knew this title would catch your attention! The blog for today is actually about one of our patients that my osteopath/physical therapist buddy, Dr. Logan Cooper, just saw a short while ago. This is a case of a fellow who came to my practice a few months ago and he had an MRI in hand from a local radiology office. He had gone to some local dentist who said he understood TMJ disorders and could help him with all the neck/back/jaw/shoulder/migraine pain that he had been experiencing for decades. I took a look at the guy’s TMJ MRI and the report said there was nothing of note – i.e. nothing wrong at all. Well, this made no sense to me so I asked the fellow to re-do the MRI up at Novant – the place I had used for many years. As it turns out, the new MRI confirmed blatant medial displacement of the discs on both sides of the jaw joints – i.e. this guy was a mess (sorry for the technical terminology here).
I discussed the MRI findings (the good MRI that is) with our patient, then took a few xrays to see what else we might find. The films showed the cranial bones were all distorted- really bent out of shape. This was when the patient became a little perturbed, so I asked him “What’s wrong?… what is upsetting you?” He explained that the other dentist wanted him to go right into braces, and then later do around $50,000 worth of crowns. He said it was very upsetting to hear such a difference in ideas and on how to treat because my plan only involved a couple appliances and nothing further until and unless the discs are back in place – and by now, dear readers, you have heard this many times- NO CASE FINISHING until and unless the discs are much improved! This patient was basically told to go right into a finished position right away. It would have been a disaster and he knew it now.
Anyway, back to the story. I explained all the distortions and slipped discs problems and he understood very well. Today he began working with Dr. Cooper and at the end of the appointment came over to me and said he was amazed what he learned. Dr. Cooper was able to show him that his leg/foot problems were actually causing his severe neck and back pain! And if I may once again say what I’ve said a million times: “It’s ALL Connected!” Who would’ve thunk it! 😊 Music comes to mind: Da foot bone is connected to da leg bone…da leg bone is connected to the hip bone…and onwards. In other words, what goes on in one part of the body really does affect the rest of the body, which affects your sleep, your healing, your entire well being. Get it? Got it? Good. ‘Nuff said.
And now the dilemma that runs through my mind every day. Why is it that so few doctors out there simply do not understand that the body really is connected? This fellow in the above paragraphs had been told by many doctors that all he could was to take botox and pills for the pain. That is simply not true. What actually works better is being seen by a doctor who understands the human body and strives toward better alignment of the body. When you are lined up properly, the CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) flows better and the lymphatics (crud) drains out better and you are simply healthier!
Since this is my blog, I have every right to get up on the podium and let you folks know how upset the insurance companies make me! Every month I meet many new patients who really need my help, but it is sometimes cost prohibitive. It’s a good and a bad thing really. Let me explain. When insurance does not pay, in some cases this might be good because if the person simply is not motivated to fix their problems, then they will not return because cost is the main driver for them. Yesterday I met a fellow who could only open his mouth to about 29mm, and as you all know, this is not healthy. His comment to me was “What does my insurance pay?” and my response was “I don’t know, but my manager will help you with that” He openly admitted that if the treatment was basically ‘free’ to him, he would try it for a while. I told him it will take at least 18-24 months of appliance therapy to unwind the problems. When I him smirk at that, I told him it would be best not to work with him and he agreed. We parted on good terms.
Last week I met a family, or I should say I met three children and their mother. All three children, and the mother, really could use ALF treatment and right away- they ALL had big circles under their eyes and were breathing through their mouths. When they found out that the cost for each of them would be starting at around $8000, the mother almost cried – she said her insurance does not cover ALF or TMJ treatment. These are folks who I would really like to help, but insurance won’t pay anything at all – that stinks! These are the cases that I can do so much good for, yet without some kind of insurance coverage, they simply cannot do it, or they will make a decision on who gets help and who does not.
Now, some of you on Facebook are wondering why I don’t treat them for free. The answer is that I cannot save them all- it’s as simple as that. Already I do about $10,000 per month in services for free – i.e. I help the people who need appliances that cannot afford our services, or give a big discount to an elderly person, or replace an appliance at no charge when the child leaves it sitting in a napkin in the cafeteria. This all adds up- a lot! Maybe it’s time we all look at the insurance companies and the idiots who are denying services. If you look at the insurance carriers profits, it is interesting how they all turn a nice profit year after year, even when the economy is down. Not a bad deal. They interestingly coerce people into signing up for these plans, and then later turn around and deny services – i.e. the TM joint! It is a joint like any other joint in most cases, and yet for some reason insurance companies exclude it in their plans. What a rip off to the customer!
Maybe it’s time for a little insurrection people! Maybe it’s time to call your legislature reps and tell them what a rip off these insurance companies are! Maybe it’s time to fight back and let your congressman know about the stupidity going on. So I’m sorry for ranting today, but after being on Facebook yesterday I realized how upset all of us really are and it’s because we are all paying piles of money and not getting a good return on our investment with our insurance carriers. Time to do something!
Here is one way to care for your teeth while wearing ALF or Gelb style appliances:
The only problem is that you need to do this outside and it can get a bit messy. Why not make things easier for yourself and try the Waterpik approach instead:
As you can see, it is just a small spray of water that will nicely clean the teeth and also keep your appliances clean as well. All you have to do is plug the pump unit into the electric outlet in your bathroom, fill the water tub, and blast away- it really is quite simple and you can do this right over the sink so it’s neat and clean!
A product that we more recently came upon is even easier to use- you just fill it with water and use it in the shower- there is a pump at the bottom, you just pump up the pressure and clean your teeth in the shower with ease -no batteries, no electricity at all- just hand pumping makes it go. The device is called: FAMI Portable Dental Care Air Pressure Oral Irrigator Water Jet Flosser and you can find it on Amazon for about $13. Not bad.
The reason for all this concern, dear readers, is that I am seeing a few too many people these days who are not brushing and flossing like they should while they wear the appliances. It is really important to keep your teeth clean at all times while you work with the appliances. If you do not, then you could end up with gum disease and even lose teeth! This would not be good for anyone!
So please take the time to clean up your act by cleaning up your teeth and gums!
It was a strange day last week when I met this new patient from about 20 miles away. She came in with a bad attitude -it was obvious what was going on – there was pain in her face and you could see if from 20 feet away! I palpated the muscles of the head/neck region and almost everything was incredibly painful -she just hurt everywhere! I knew for sure that I could help her and told her she came to the right place. The problem came up when I ordered the MRI of the jaw joints. She became very angry that she would have to drive to Tysons Corner to Novant imaging and there was no MRI center down the street from her house. I tried to explain that for us she was considered ‘local’- i.e. one of the neighbors.
The funny thing is that while she was in our office we had a family from Kuwait and New York here at the same time. As it turned out, these families were talking to each other about the difficulties of finding someone who understood TMD and craniofacial issues and neither family seemed to mind traveling as the patients were starting to feel better. It made me wonder if this local person was just in so much pain at all times that she was angry about everything that got in her way- like a little drive to see the TMJ guy!
So here I sit in my little office on a rainy and cold Monday morning. I have already seen seven TMD patients as of 10:30 this morning. They are all feeling a bit better overall, which is pretty darned good considering how they started in so much pain. A couple of them just got their appliances last week and have remarked how things are ‘already changing’ for the better- that makes my day when I hear those words. You never know what to expect in our office. And then there is the one from Colorado who feels better and wants me to finish even though the discs are still not in place. In addition -if I start to lower the appliance there will be postural changes that need to be addressed, yet there is no one near her to help make that happen, so we are not ready to lower the device. If she lived here, I would have Dr. Logan Cooper adjust her accordingly. Again, without the local resources, it is hard to finish treating someone who really does live far away!
For all these reasons, I am trying very hard to increase our network of PT and osteopath doctors all over the country, and indeed the world. More recently, I put the ever so famous Dr. Tony O’Connor from Cork, Ireland, on my list of great people to work with. He has a myofunctional therapist in his office who is doing great work for a couple of my patients who are from Dublin. It saves the patients time and money on the travel. Yet, I am still lacking in such resources in other areas of the world. I guess it’s a matter of time- we will get there one day!
It was a dark and stormy night….don’t you just love it when the story starts that way? Well, with most of the calls that I overhear to an insurance company, this seems to be appropriate. It was a couple weeks ago and I was overhearing one of my team talk to the representative from an insurance company. I will not mention the name of the insurance company since it does not really matter- most of them have the same level of ethics and caring as most hardened criminals. The difference is that this time they did it in writing. The policy states something like ‘We cover TMJ treatment’. The next line, however, states ‘We do not cover non-surgical treatment’ and the next line states ‘We do not cover surgical treatment’. So, in my little mind, the hamster is spinning on his little wheel as I get my head around all this. The little guy is running furiously trying to keep up with what my brain is trying to process. And after a moment I realize that this is more insurance doublespeak! I know I have written a little about this before and I just cannot let this one go for some reason! Was it some MBA who wrote the first line and then decided, “Hmm…these patients are a bunch of idiots…they never read the policy…let’s say we cover the treatment so we can truly say that to our idiot patients…then let’s just negate what we said in the next two lines”. My dear readers- all I can say is that this is brilliant, absolutely and totally brilliant! This MBA guy must think everyone out there in medical and dental world are a bunch of flippin’ idiots! Maybe he is right!
Just imagine if your automobile policy states that they cover you in an accident. Then the next lines state that they do not cover if YOU caused the accident, and the next line says they do not cover you if YOU DID NOT cause the accident. So now, in their advertisements, they can state that they cover you in the event of an accident because it says that in their policy manual. It’s like most deceptive advertising practices – just pick out what you want that suits your purpose and who cares about the rest of the sentences that tell the rest of the picture. I think it’s like those lawyer shows on TV when the lawyer asks a question and the person on the stand starts to tell the story, and the slick lawyer cuts them off and does not allow them to finish the whole story – the lawyer will just use the words they want and the heck with the rest of the truth. It’s deceptive and just downright dishonest and unethical.
So sorry for the deviation to the story, here we go, back to it. Anyway – the lady in my office was in disbelief when she read the policy back to the rep on the phone. She said this is a bunch of doublespeak and you could get in a lot of trouble for this. Eventually, after a short eternity of being bounced from one rep to another, to another, to another, did I say to another? She eventually reached a supervisor after many different transfers. She explained to the supervisor that she had the language in hand and would really enjoy filing with the state insurance commission and explain to them her concerns. Well, lo and behold and maybe even a hallelujah being sung in the background (I’m thinking about Shrek right now), the supervisor gave us approval and agreed to pay for the treatment that was needed! It sounded more like the supervisor was trying to pay off the upset patient more than anything else. As for myself, I just fell apart laughing when I heard that the case was approved, but it took multiple hours and countless transfers to get there. So I am thinking that if this is the level of difficulty it takes to get a case approved, why do we have insurance companies anyway? If you have to fight like a badger to help a patient get their claim approved, where does it all end? Perhaps we could go back to Roman times, have our disputes settled with my team members being gladiators and going against the reps at the insurance companies- let’s see them duke it out, maybe a fight to the death and winner keeps the money?
This is why folks, when you deal with those sons of…excuse me, super nice people, at the insurance company, that you write down their name (even if they won’t give you their real name), and write down the case number so that you can track the conversation. This way, later on when they say they never heard from you, you can refer them to the case number. Then when they say the case number does not exist, then you know for sure the game they are playing. This, my dear readers, is another example of the insurance company two step- a dirty little game they all enjoy playing and it costs you and it costs me dearly!
As many of you know, dear readers, I cannot fix everyone who walks through my doors. So today I am going to make a confession about one of my personal failures. This should provide some really good fodder for my naysayers out there, especially when you read about the outcome. This patient’s story goes as follows: Motor Vehicle accident in 1999- he was rear ended at fairly high speed while stopped as a jaywalker was crossing the street. The next morning, he was unable to move his neck or back due to the injuries sustained. TMJ MRI showed displaced discs. The two neurosurgeons told him the same thing: he needed surgery- rods down the neck and back to get stability. This surgery had nothing to do with the TMJ problem so there would be more work to do is how I figured. Anyway – this patient then told me that one of his surgeons told him he looked like “one of those marines who have jumped out of a helicopter a thousand times over” when it came to how damaged his cervical and lumbar spines were. And just to make it better, one of the surgeons told this guy that even if he did the surgery, he would probably be in a wheelchair within five years.
I knew right then and there I was over my head, but I had to try and help this guy. I made the usual decompression appliance which helped a lot. Then the patient went back and forth to MANY different pain specialists –from acupuncture, to chiropractors, to nerve specialists, and more. This poor guy saw everybody you can imagine and yet never really got a lot better. Fast forward almost twenty years and this patient is still wearing a similar appliance as he had right after the accident. He ‘manages’ the pain. There are lots of heating pads, back massagers, advil, hot soaking tubs, and whatever else he can manage with.
It was quite recently that I coined the term ‘train wreck’ with patients like this. It was also at that time that I openly learned to admit that I most certainly DID NOT have all the answers! And that was when life got just a little bit easier perhaps. I knew I could not fix everybody that walked in our doors because you see, dear readers, that patient is ME! Because of an irresponsible driver nearly 20 years ago, I now suffer daily back and neck pain and have learned how to manage my case very carefully. As I sit here typing, there is a massage device wrapped around my neck and I am wearing my dental appliance to support the TM joints. I simply could not take that risk with the rods going through my back- I did not want to end up in a wheelchair. So I too am seeking answers as I go along the journey. Maybe that is what makes me so passionate about what I do. My own failure with my own case has shown me that sometimes a person has so much damage that all you can do is to manage the pain and learn to keep looking for better answers.
I must admit that one of the ‘better answers’ has been working with the osteopath doctors that I work with. They seem to have a handle on getting things lined up better, longer. It is quite interesting having this type of doctor put their hands on your head, feel the cranial pulses, and tell you that you experienced an accident years ago when you never told them anything about it. So as a patient myself, I will keep you all informed of my own personal progress. My goal is to learn as much as I possibly can about this disorder that affects millions of people and is so poorly understood. I am hoping to educate millions of people in the coming years and to give them hope!