Diane Hicks was in unbearable pain. Sometimes it lasted for only minutes. Other times, it lasted weeks. It was like someone sticking an ice-pick in every tooth.
She had a wisdom tooth pulled and tried migraine medication. But the pain persisted. She couldn't eat, couldn't sleep and couldn't smile.
It turns out the pain wasn't just bad - it was life threatening. An emergency room doctor diagnosed her with a nerve disorder called Trigeminal Neuralgia.
The nerve carries pain and feeling from the brain to the skin of the face. When the artery rubs a nerve, it causes pain near the eye, cheek and jaw - usually on one side of the face.
About 15,000 Americans are diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia every year. But Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Lim suspects many more have the condition but have been misdiagnosed with having migraines or a dental issue.
"Some of patients had four or five teeth pulled and root canals before came upon diagnosis," Lim said.
He said that in the majority of cases there's an artery that is touching the trigeminal nerve. Lim uses an MRI to confirm the problem.
Lim operated on Hicks by pushing an artery off the nerve and placing a Teflon cushion between them as a buffer.
Hicks felt immediate relief.
"I woke up and remember I just smiled at him, turned to him, I'm fixed, you fixed me, thank you," Hicks said.
Now pain free, Hicks is thrilled to have her life back - especially the quality time with her children.