Story: Miss•Treated by the Orthodontist

Today's post comes from Julie Ryan, chronic illness sufferer and blogger.

I started 2008 with some pretty major dental surgery, involving about $5000 worth of gum grafting. The dentist and surgeon agreed that my gums were eroding as a result of overcrowding. They said that if I didn’t get braces and get the overcrowding taken care of that I’d be looking at a repeat of this surgery in 10 years or less.  I got a couple more opinions before I finally decided that I’d be a 30-something with braces.

I chose an orthodontist based on several reviews as well as my initial interaction with and impression of him. He seemed nice enough and seemed to know what he was talking about. However, one thing I never asked (and should have) was how many adults he treats. I think that one question might have saved me a lot of grief down the road.

Unfortunately, I had problems almost from minute one. The first step for me was to install “spacers”. These are small pieces of plastic that help create space between the back teeth. As soon as these were installed I began having horrible headaches. However, when I reported this to the orthodontist he just blew it off with an “oh your teeth are moving, there’s going to be pain.”  I accepted this response and tried to just deal with it.

Once the actual braces went on the pain just got worse. Within a month I wasn’t leaving the couch because the pain was so bad. I couldn’t eat anything that required chewing. I was eating Excedrin and Advil like candy and supplementing those with a limited supply of prescription migraine meds. The only thing that seemed to help was a combination of chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture; and that never helped for more than a day.

Over the course of the next three months I visited my orthodontist regularly and each time I reported how bad the pain was. Each time he ignored me and treated me like a whining child. But, I wasn’t a whining child. Eventually, my chiropractor put two and two together and came up with TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder). I found a specialist who deals with this disorder and after examining me, he agreed that that’s exactly what it was and that it was the installation of the braces that activated the problem for me. 

When I addressed this issue with my orthodontist, things went from bad to worse. I had pre-paid for my braces and he didn’t want to refund my money. As far as he was concerned this was my fault. He said I already had TMJ before he saw me and he was not liable for making the situation worse, pointing at my original paperwork where I said that I sometimes have pain when I chew gum. Nowhere on the paperwork did it say anything about TMJ. In fact, when I told my chiropractor about it later he told me that he’d had a conversation in the past with my orthodontist and that the orthodontist said he didn’t believe in TMJ!

In the end, I had to take my husband with me to confront the orthodontist about a refund. Interestingly enough, he knew I was coming and made sure that the waiting room was cleared of any patients before I got there. My husband said very little in that meeting, but I know that his presence made a huge difference in the end result. I got my money back. 

I wish I could say this was the only time that I’ve been mistreated by the medical community, or the only time I saw a distinct difference in service by having my husband present. Sadly, it probably won’t be the last.

Julie Ryan is a freelance writer and editor. On her website, Counting My Spoons, she blogs about living with chronic illness, seeking to inspire those who live with these illnesses to live positively. She is also a regular contributor to and In addition to writing, Julie loves to read and play poker.