Welcome to the final installment of Sare’s Adventures with TruDenta! This is where I get into the nitty-gritty of what a TruDenta treatment actually entails and what it was like to receive one where I did, at Dr. Wood’s office in Buffalo, NY.
Overview & Step One
TruDenta is a twelve week treatment program (for we of the extreme case) with at-home components and an ongoing at-home maintenance routine after the twelve weeks. Likewise, check-ins and one-off treatments can be had after the end of the twelve weeks, regularly or as needed to get and keep the pain and secondary symptoms under control.
First off, I was measured for a mouth guard to wear when I sleep that will keep me from clenching my teeth. (I apparently clench, not grind. Who knew?) Once my mouth guard came in, then my treatment could begin. And I was given the following little nugget of information that might have helped so much more if I’d had it at twelve rather than forty years of age.
“Your teeth should only touch when you’re chewing your food. Otherwise, they should be slightly apart, your jaw relaxed.” -Dr. Wood, to a dumbfounded Sare
And so I also began the process of mindfulness as applied to noticing and stopping when I clenched my teeth while conscious. Which was a shocking amount of time at first, and almost not at all now.
…Why is this important, again? The whole point of TruDenta is that orthodontists realized that muscle tension in the head, neck, and shoulders yanks unrelentingly on the trigeminal nerve (that special migraine spawning nerve) and in 95% (ish) of people who suffer from migraines, it’s related to muscle tension. And so really, every single thing in this blogpost has to do with relieving muscle tension, and keeping muscles from getting tense.
The Nuts & Bolts: A Spa Treatment
The TruDenta treatment happens before the dentist office really opens so that everything is quiet and calm, rather than filled with the bustle of efficiency, rotary tooth polishers, the chatter of voices, and all the dental usual.
Maggie, my TruDenta tech and the office manager of the practice, covered me in a blanket and put on a relaxing CD of ocean waves as I lay back in a dental chair that I now have a lot of really positive associations with, and the session would begin.
I always needed to wear a tank top (even in the winter, hence the blanket), because some of the treatment requires access to the top, front, and back of my shoulders.
There are four basic parts of each treatment, and some happen concurrently. Added to that is the ambiance: it’s meant to be relaxing, and I found it exactly that. And further, the discrete testing: How is the treatment working for my range of motion (and am I really doing my homework)?
I had an ultrasound on my heart when I was a teen. (Several strange and horrible things happened to me when I was a teen. Don’t ask.) I just thought it was nifty to see live video of my heart actually beating.
The TruDenta use of ultrasound doesn’t have anything to do with creating a picture, because as it turns out, ultrasound has so many uses it’s actually hard to count them. Maggie encouraged me to look up ultrasound to inform myself of what it does, and holy moly, the Wikipedia article just keeps going. Short version: Ultrasound has a lot of varied medical uses. For TruDenta’s purposes, it’s one of several ways to break up lactic acid. It’s used on the face (cheeks and jaw), neck, and shoulders.
What does lactic acid have to do with excruciating migraine pain? I’m glad you asked.
I knew as an adult taking up running (and all the attendant education because I don’t want to bust a joint and require a replacement) that muscle use/abuse can/will lead to lactic acid build up if an athlete is not super mindful about aftercare: stretching, rubbing out knots, exact hydration, access to oxygen. What I had no idea about is that sometimes… the lactic acid doesn’t just go away when you rest. If you don’t work out the issues in your muscles some of it will just hang around for decades. This is true of athletic endeavors, but also anytime you use your muscles (like remodeling your house), or have them abused for you (like in a car accident, for instance).
So, TruDenta uses ultrasound as one method to break up the decades of rather hardened lactic acid that is so calcified that I couldn’t actually open my mouth very widely, or turn my head on my neck to see in my blind spot while driving. And neither of those things I really noted because it just crept up on me, the range of motion decreasing so incrementally that I didn’t actually notice until it was pointed out to me, at which point it was obvious.
Ditto Ultrasound. TruDenta uses cold laser to break up decades of hardened lactic acid in the shoulders, neck, and face. It doesn’t hurt at all, and I say that not as someone who has a ridiculously insensitive pain scale. I say that as someone who has had laser tattoo removal, which hurt terrifically. Cold laser… I couldn’t actually feel it. And perhaps that’s why cold laser isn’t as exciting for me as Ultrasound, for some reason, even though whenever I heard the phrase ‘cold laser’ I inevitably think of a villain in a 1960’s spy film. Any villain. Pick a villain.
But it is interesting to me, theologically and ritually, that part of my physical wellness regime is sound and light. Yes, it’s concentrated. Yes, it’s highly technical and mechanized. Yes, it’s also sound and light which are tried and true ancient methods of dispelling darkness, both physical and metaphysical. I feel like huge portions of my ritual life (reminder: I’m a priest, I have a ritual life) have been me reading some sort of ancient alchemical ritual whose author didn’t fully understand what he was trying to record for posterity, but made a
crude bold attempt anyway.
Hello, Philosopher’s Stone! I would like to introduce you to my hellish pain levels. You’d like to fix that for me? No way! THANKS BUNCHES!
And then I submit myself to electro-shock-therapy as known in the 21st century, all in the name of getting rid of both old and new lactic acid build up.
For those familiar with a TENS machine, the microcurrent machine is the next generation, and an important distinction is that the positive effects of the TENS machine end when it turns off, where as the microcurrent machine has a cumulative effect. This means that not only do the positive effects not end entirely when the machine stops, but there is a small but important healing/reprogramming that’s going on so that eventually it won’t have to be used as often, or at all.
During the treatment sessions, I would have the twin sets of electrode pads running current for about 30 minutes between my right check and my left upper neck/jaw, and my left cheek and my right upper neck/jaw.
This is the same sort of technique that chiropractors sometimes use to release lactic acid in the backs of patients before they have their adjustment.
According to Maggie, this is apparently everyone’s favorite part. Aaaand it’s mine, too.
While the microcurrent machine is very gently and specifically electrocuting choice muscle groups, I get a very pointed medical massage with some very specific massage lotion that has in it, among other things, MSM. Face, neck, shoulders.
Most any massage is a delightful thing but especially when your therapist finds the knots (that’s one form of lactic acid, people), and can actually work them through without causing you to tense your muscles in other areas. And if you happen to be knots upon knots upon knots, like me, and possibly like a great many people, then perhaps you can see why you’d also need ultrasound, cold laser, and microcurrent.
At the fourth treatment, my at-home care package had arrived. All part of the initial price tag, my home care kit had my very own microcurrent machine (which I immediately named Sparky), an industrial sized icepack (super long, with velcro), a meditation CD with ocean waves on it, two bottles of MSM supplement, one extra large bottle of MSM lotion, a set of instructions and some batteries.
- Do specific stretches, morning and night.
- Always wear your mouth guard while sleeping.
- Take your MSM supplement morning and night.
- Use your MSM lotion morning and night on your face, neck, and shoulders.
- Try not to clench your teeth while awake.
- Relax your shoulders as often as you think about it.
- Wear Sparky in the approved fashion for an hour each morning, while meditating.
- Wear the icepack around your neck during Sparky meditation.
- Drink enough water for your body weight.
- Take deep breaths as often as you think about it.
- Add magnesium and calcium supplements to your vitamin regimen.
- At the first sign of a migraine, put Sparky on for at least an hour, at most for the length of the migraine, and crank it until you can’t feel the pain, or until you feel dizzy. If you feel dizzy, back down one setting. Drink a glass of water. Then do a full round of stretches. Then put MSM lotion on your face, neck, and shoulders, giving yourself a massage in the approved fashion while you’re at it. Put on your icepack and do any other standard activity that would normally calm you down. Take two advil, if you want to, with a little food. Try to sleep, or meditate.
Maggie walked me through using Sparky on my own, and gave me detailed instructions on the other way I’d be using Sparky. In addition to using the electrode pads to loosen up lactic acid build up in my face and neck, there’s the other use of the machine. The Alpha-Stim M is a microcurrent and cranial electrotherapy stimulator. The microcurrent breaks up lactic acid. The e-stim bit helps to heal the actual pain of the migraine, as well as lessen the effects of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It involves ear clips that go onto your lobes like cybernetic earrings, and I’m pretty sure the e-stim is why the FDA requires the machine be used under a doctor’s orders and can only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription in the US.
To Trip, or Not To Trip
So, the e-stim puts its wearer in a slightly altered state. I can under no circumstances operate heavy machinery while wearing it, even though at the lowest levels I can’t actually feel the difference. This might have to do with my ridiculously insensitive pain scale. I don’t know.
I do know that I let my husband use it when he had a headache once, on the second lowest setting of eleven options, and for the entire half hour he used it, he was a trippy little bunny who had to lay on the couch. At one point he did, in fact, watch in fascination as his hand moved slowly in front of his eyes. Meanwhile I’m still chopping onions and preaching sermons on the mid-levels.
As an ironic side note, I’ve never done drugs. Not once. I don’t like the feeling of not being in control, and I struggled with vaso vagal as a child and young adult which meant that feeling lightheaded would send me into a downward spiral of panic. When it came to emotional pain as a young person, I compartmentalized and buried myself in food, stories, numbness, and forgetfulness. When it came to physical pain at the same age, we now both know I decided it wasn’t worth the effort of intervention and just sucked it up and moved on. Now, I’ll grant you, all of these coping mechanisms had their own unfortunate side effects which I’ve been working on for some time. But in the midst of the maelstrom, Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign worked really well on me.
Is that why I don’t trip even when Sparky is all the way to maximum? I don’t think so. As per instruction, I only use the level needed to not feel excruciating physical pain. And sometimes, for me, Sparky doesn’t go high enough, but always it dulls the pain tremendously. And it is the reason I haven’t had a migraine past ‘6’ since I got it; there have been a few that might have gone to ‘9’ or ’10’ on my own personal pain scale, but they couldn’t actually break through the current. And if you think I’m not overwhelmingly grateful for that, you’re wrong.
But back to not tripping.
I have a clergy colleague who is quite elderly and who has suffered quietly from chronic back pain for some number of decades. I never actually realized how much he suffered as he is my colleague who most resembles a dragon in human form, and I mean that as a compliment in the extreme. He shared with me a story one day, as we were discussing chronic pain after another colleague’s funeral. He had expressed his concern to his doctor about going off a certain addictive pain medication that he had been on for some time. He’d be going off it after his long-awaited surgery that actually did what it needed to do, and without complication or fuss. Apparently others had warned him about how difficult it was going to be, coming off the addictive pain meds. His doctor said this:
“That doesn’t apply to you. Every one of my patients who has taken the addictive stuff because they’re actually in excruciating physical pain has had no problem stopping it, when the pain’s gone.” – anonymous doctor of anonymous colleague
And my colleague reported that he did what his doctor told him to do, stopped it cold turkey at just the right moment for him, and lo, no addictive desire to continue it. And I think about that with me and Sparky.
It’s mind-altering. But I only seek meditation to alter my mind.
I have other issues, but I use other things to cope with them or help heal them altogether; Sparky is well and truly only to stop the excruciating physical pain.
Almost always it makes the pain stop. I’m grateful for this.
It’s slowly and gently reprogramming my mind to not feel excruciating physical pain while not being actively mauled by a bear. I’m also grateful for this.
And I never seem to trip on it…
– Low levels affect me so minimally I can’t sense it (though like drinking, I recognize the effect is occurring even if I can’t cognitively process it).
– Mid-levels, used only when in pain, do dull my cognitive abilities like logic and reasoning, but interestingly I can still preach a convincing and useful sermon without notes while Sparky is in the mid-levels. Possibly the sermons come from a different place.
– High levels do actively affect my balance and cognitive processing speed, but if Sparky is on high, I’m not working; I’m doing everything in my arsenal to avoid a hellish migraine that might take days out of my life without apologizing.
The First Assessment
The price tag of this treatment came all at once, because it was going on a credit card anyway. It was in the neighborhood of $4,000, and so far insurance has covered nothing, though I live in hope and I will be appealing at some point when the insurance company finishes telling me in detail about how it couldn’t possibly cover the treatment that is curing my chronic pain.
And subsequent treatments, as often as I feel I need them, cost $150 each. I’ve availed myself of a few, but not as many as the pain would dictate because my family is in a particularly lean time and it’s not crisis care, not when I have Sparky at home and a ridiculously high pain tolerance.
Sparky, fully 1/4 of the price tag, comes with a 5 year warranty, and I’ve called upon it. Alpha-Stim, the manufacterer of Sparky, was wonderful when I discussed how often I need to use it, and how necessary it is in a crisis, and so they sent me a preemptive replacement, and I sent Sparky, Sr. back in the same box. Sparky, Jr. has been working just as advertised ever since.
I’ve replaced the ear clips wire assembly twice now. Wires can only be wrapped and bent so many times. Each one is $35 well spent.
The ear clips have replaceable felt pads, but I still haven’t gone through the original supply and so I haven’t needed to order more.
The electrode pads I’ve reordered online twice now, but now I buy in bulk. This combined with washing the skin in question just before use and reusing the pads until they’re not sticky anymore means that I haven’t had to order in bulk twice.
The tiny bottle of conducting solution that needs to be put on the ear clips’ felt pads was quickly spent and I bought a large bottle replacement online and just refill my tiny and easily portable bottle, because oh, yes. Sparky goes with me everywhere I go.
Sparky takes 2 AA batteries, and it is recommended only to use lithium ion non-rechargeable batteries, and I see why. Sparky is made to use up and deliver electricity, and very literally transmutes the energy in the battery to the energy reprogramming my brain’s pain centers. And it goes through batteries like whoa. Except I cannot in all good conscience go through non-rechargable batteries like whoa, especially since in the beginning I had to wear Sparky on high for days at a time. So I keep some lithium ion non-rechargable batteries as back ups, and I have some rechargable ones (high capacity, 2400 mAh) that I rotate out frequently, as they last approximately one third as long. Still, I can recharge those up to 800 times, which means a set of four rechargables will last me more than four years.
The follow up price tag has been in the neighborhood of $700, over the course of just over a year and split up in several smaller purchases of replacement supplies, MSM supplements and lotions, batteries, and follow up treatments. This doesn’t include the fast-acting ibuprofen purchases, the other recommended supplements, and the canisters of 95% pure oxygen (aviator’s oxygen, good for muscle recovery and migraine remediation).
The initial price tag went on a credit card when I had no idea how I would pay it because it was a crisis, and had been for some time. The follow up price tag has been easier still to swallow as it is much smaller and presents itself in even tinier chunks. And despite the fact that insurance refuses to cover the treatment that works…
The Final Assessment
No angst. No resentment. No regrets.
And so much less pain that I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me.
Are the migraines entirely gone, one year after the end of treatment? No. Are they 95% gone in both quantity and quality? Yes. Do I have an expectation that in the next year they will be 99% gone with continued at-home recovery? Yes. And in the next five years, without drugs or surgery, 100% gone?
This blogpost, The Nuts & Bolts: A Spa Treatment, is part four of Sare’s Adventures with TruDenta. Find part one, The Opening Gambit: Cynicism here, part two, The Hidden Bias: Nondualism here, and part three, The Historical Experience: Agony, here. You can find the epilogue (the Bonus Update, Three Years Later) here.
For more information on TruDenta, you can check out their official site here. If you’re in the WNY area and you would like to have a TruDenta assessment with Dr. Wood, you can find his website here, and his facebook page here. To make an appointment, call his office at (716) 882-0800.
Finally, has Sare been compensated in any way, shape, or form by anyone for this blog series? Nope.