When actor Burt Reynolds died on September 6, 2018, fellow actors flooded social media with messages of sadness and admiration for the late actor. One tribute in particular, from Reynolds’ ex-partner, actress Sally Field, inspired the media to read Fields’ new autobiography, In Pieces, for further insight into their relationship. What they discovered was a loving yet complex relationship that was further complicated by a medical condition Reynolds suffered from.
The condition, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, affects an estimated 10 million Americans and is categorized as pain and stiffness caused by the misalignment of the jaw. According to neuromuscular dentist Dr. Alexandra George of Wexford, Pennsylvania, the pain from TMJ disorder can often be debilitating, and it’s not always centered on just the jaw.
“I often see patients who experience TMJ pain throughout the upper body. It’s not uncommon to feel pain in the neck, shoulders and back, or to get migraine headaches or ear pain and tinnitus from TMJ disorder,” she says.
As for Reynolds’ means of treating the disorder, Field describes the ordeal: “It was my job to dispense the only method he had of dealing with the agony, and whenever he’d signal with a nod of his head or a raise of his eyebrow, I’d hand him a Valium, then another and another, offset by an occasional Percodan or two.”
Thankfully, however, George says there are ways to treat TMJ disorder that don’t require such extreme measures. Neuromuscular orthodontics can be an effective way to not simply mask the pain, but to correct the alignment of the jaw and solve the problem at its root, naturally.
As for Reynolds, the behavior that began with trying to treat his TMJ disorder pain eventually evolved into an addiction to painkillers that he struggled with until the late 2000s. George hopes people understand this is not something they have to endure.
“If you have or suspect you have TMJ disorder, see your dentist,” she says. “Don’t self-medicate. Get help for the root problem and you won’t need the painkillers.”