Rest the ‘fingerprint’ part of your index finger on top of your front lower teeth, as though you’re about to bite down on your finger.
Now, lower your top teeth until they touch your fingernail.
That distance is somewhere between half and three quarters of a centimetre.
That is the WIDEST I can now open my mouth.
It goes no wider. At all. I can’t force it wider, no matter how hard I try.
Thanks to something called trismus.
Trismus is lockjaw. Caused by a tightening of the muscles used to move your lower jaw, it reduces your ability to open your mouth wide enough to pass standard-sized pieces of food inside.
It can also severely affect these fun activities:
In my case, all of those have been affected.
Trismus is caused by intense blasts of radiotherapy to that area of the face and neck, after which the ability to open your mouth lessens over time.
Imagine, for a second, trying to eat when you can only open your mouth half a centimetre wide. It would be a struggle, wouldn’t it?
Trust me, it is.
Trismus severely limits the types of food I’m able to eat. Basically, whatever I eat needs to be flat and thin. Crackers are fine, as are thin slices of cheese or meat (although, once past my teeth, meat is very difficult to swallow thanks to the added complication of lymphedema causing my throat to be swollen and painful).
How lucky am I?
I can still manage Weetabix if it’s crunched up, if I use a teaspoon to eat it.
Cookies are possible, so long as they’re no more than half a centimetre thick. Any more, they just won’t go in. I bought some cookies while in London at the weekend, but they’re just too thick to fit between my teeth.
Can trismus be cured, I hear you ask?
Possibly. Sometimes, the muscles can be stretched over time with the use of a wedge-like implement that fits between the teeth and, essentially, cranks the jaws apart.
And, yes, that is as painful as it sounds.
There’s also the possibility of injections into the muscles to stop them from spasming. Those injections are filled with botox. So, even if they don’t work, the good news is that my lower jaw will look years younger than the rest of my face.
The final – and most severe option is surgery. Surgery to peel back the skin of your face, detach your jaw, and set it to open wider, once it has been wired shut long enough for the cuts and stitches to heal, that is.
I have my first appointment to begin one of these processes this afternoon, with the Maxillofacial department at Burnley Hospital. (I was due to begin treatment towards the end of last year, but couldn’t because I was suffering with a series of infections in my stomach PEG, causing me to be too unwell).
I am NOT looking forward to it.
But, I WILL let you know how I get on.