What a 90 Year Old Taught Me About Jaw Pain

One of the advantages to knowing 90 year olds is that you benefit from their extended meditations on life.

Ed Ball is a 93 year old retired Dentist who specialized in Periodontal work.  He’s a man of science and a deep man of faith. 

Ed told me a story about a woman who suffered from Tempromandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) – a condition that leads to intense pain in the jaw and sometimes an inability to open the mouth. 

This woman’s husband was an accomplished dental surgeon.  He operated on her several times, but to no avail.   He sent her to some of his best colleagues.  No results.  The pain was even worse.  One colleague went so far as to remove the ball and socket joint of the woman’s jaw.

The pain persisted.

There was only one thing that cured the woman’s pain.

She divorced her husband.  The jaw pain went away.

Ed’s conclusion was that the stress of a failing marriage was the real cause of this woman’s pain.   She was internalizing all her stress, and it was coming out in the weakest part of her body – in her case, the jaw muscles.  All the medical work that she went through simply added more strain to an already deteriorating relationship.

It would have been less costly to go to marriage counseling.

As Ed and I reflected on the story, we talked about how many times (though certainly not all times) our physical problems have much deeper roots.  We talked about how spiritual answers are sometimes the best medicine to our physical ailments:  forgiveness, trusting God, practicing lovingkindness.   The wise person attends to these deeper spiritual needs, thus heading off a whole constellation of difficulties and miseries – like the unfortunate woman of Ed’s story. 

So trust me, it’s a beneficial thing to have relationships with older, wiser people.  You’ll learn a thing or two.


4 thoughts on “What a 90 Year Old Taught Me About Jaw Pain

  1. Frank Lake, a British Physician working in China as a Missionary learned a great deal in his ministry to poor Chinese farmers who had no money and no medicines. He had to treat the spiritual, emotional and relational ills first. He was taken prisoner in WWII and served as prison Doctor to hundreds of people. Returning to Oxford after the war he wrote about what we now call Psychsomatic Illnesses and came to the conclusion that many illnesses settled in the body as a metaphor for the deeper spiritual issues they needed to face.

    Stiff neck? Russ, you can find the biblical meaning to that. Bad marriage to a Dentist who specialized in jaws but who failed to work his magic on her jaw? Remove the root of the pain not the fruit.

  2. I’m discovering: the older I get the more I appreciate old people!! Your friend, Ed, sounds like a delightful saint to know, and the lesson from his story is certainly worth taking to heart.

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