Jaw Popping Mystery Solved

I got into a fight at school.

By Kevin RR Williams

ORTHODONTIA I wasn't a rowdy kid. There was one potentially life-and-death conflict not mentioned here and another event that affected the rest of my life. Let's talk about the second. Its duration was short and the prevailer was decisive. The victor was one who, unknown to me at the time, was already proficient in martial arts. Later we became members of the same high-school Karate club.

Upset about a tackle for which he was not dressed, Daniel* "was all up in my grill" as they say, shouting in my face. This provoked me, in a moment of ignorance, to pull back my untrained fist in order to punch. Daniel didn't wait for my leisurely strike. He intercepted it with a solid blow to my jaw. There were more stars in my head than the Emmys. My field of vision skewed and became tinted green. I was dazed and spitting out pieces of tooth. This, my friends, was a T.K.O. In retrospect, it was somewhat amusing for the principle to phone my parent and say I was "fighting" at school since the conflict ended within 10 seconds and I never returned a punch. This was the first and last time someone struck me in the mouth.

High School Fight Club

Significantly taller and heavier now, in high school I was very lanky at 6'2" and 145 pounds with zero body fat. We called it a Karate body. (Bruce Lee was only 135 pounds.) There were people walking around on campus with 18" biceps which was about the diameter of my thigh. So for my protection, taking a queue from Daniel, I strived to master the one-strike-fight — studying key pressure points that could instantly disable attackers. It was easy for others to underestimate my slender stature. But my height gave me a considerable reach over opponents. Combined with blazing speed, I was formidable when sparing.

The Karate club allowed students to share among each other techniques from different dojos. Hence I was exposed to Kempo, Hapkido, and Taekwondo. I became pretty proficient with the Kabuto Bo (staff) and Nunchakus. During non-contact sparing, purple, brown and black belts were often surprised to feel the wind of a sub-second round house or hooking heel kick within an inch of their face. Immediately, the sparing was halted as my opponent asked if I had "control" (a term denoting the ability to precisely place a kick to the head without striking). With assurances that my "miss" was not an accident, we would continue. Interestingly, I never had/made the occasion to square off with Daniel. He was more like our showpiece at pep rallies to give the club credibility. Eventually, I left behind the pursuit of violence to become a peaceful man.

A few years after high school, I accidentally met up with Daniel. He asked if I remembered him. "How could I forget with this chipped molar still in my mouth?" I thought to myself. I diffused the encounter by simply saying, "I remember." He said he was still practicing Martial Arts. Needless to say, I didn't try to punch him.

Daniel in the Dentist Den

The badly chipped tooth eventually developed a fissure resulting in the need to receive a crown later in life. Thanks Daniel, you're hard to forget. Last year another "gift" from him was discovered while visiting the dentist. For as long as I can remember, opening my mouth wide has caused a popping sound. Oral surgeons might refer to this as a temporomandibular joint or TMJ symptom. Usually the condition it is accompanied by other prodomes such as headaches or earaches or locked jaw. In the early 1980s it was quite popular to break, add plates and rewire adult jaws to correct this condition. One of my workmates had this done. In recent years, gentle therapies or bite guards are recommended before considering surgery.

Anyway, while demonstrating my popping sound to a new dentist, she said, "You must have been hit in the jaw. The same incident that chipped the crowned tooth probably broke your jaw." News flash. That's it! I wasn't born with TMJ. Daniel broke my jaw as a high school freshman and I never put it together. (Pun intended.)

I don't recommend violence. But here's some advice if you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a blow: Clench your teeth. An unstable jaw can easily be broken. Second thing I learned was never to telegraph a punch. More to the point of TMJ, try to identify a genesis to the resulting pop. If you are ever struck in the jaw, have a medical professional immediatly assess potential misalignment and possible remedies to avoid lifelong side effects.

*Name changes for privacy.

Tags: dental, dentists, oral care, orthodontists, self defense, teeth, violence