Ever since 29-year-old Tamara Minge was a child, her jaw had painlessly clicked.
But something she thought was an odd quirk was actually a sign of a medical condition that would later cause her years of pain and thousands of dollars.
Until late 2012, Tamara’s jaw hadn’t caused her pain or discomfort. Then one day, everything changed.
“It wasn’t until I woke up one morning and I went to open my mouth and it just wouldn’t open more than a finger width, physically and from the pain, I just couldn’t open it any more than that,” she told Mamamia.
The single mum turned to a dentist, who guessed that a disc in her jaw had become displaced and referred her to a specialist facial surgeon.
So, Tamara, who lives in Mt Gambier, Victoria with her now-seven-year-old daughter drove the 425 kilometres to Melbourne for a specialist appointment. It's a 10-hour return trip she would later know all too well, as she continued to drive it dozens of times over the next five years.
The office administrator explained she first underwent a procedure that was hoped to set her jaw right - and only made it worse - before a scan revealed she had osteoarthritis in her left and right jaw (temporomandibular) joints.
The condition - which occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down - was so far advanced that a full joint replacement was her only option. First on the right side of her jaw and later her left.
"The whole time it was still a finger-width. Right up until I had my replacement it was that limited opening. It made eating difficult," she said.
"I was always using a teaspoon. I couldn't use a tablespoon, it wouldn't fit into my mouth."
All of this would have been bearable, if the first joint replacement she received in November 2013 wasn't made of two metals she's allergic to.
Tamara said her concerns she had a known allergy to nickel were ignored before surgery to replace her right jaw joint. It was made from titanium alloy, which she later found out contained nickel, and cobalt - another metal she's allergic to.
The result was swelling and pain that never subsided as well as skin issues on the right side of her face.
Since then, she's received a successful left joint replacement with a titanium (and allergy free) joint in August 2016 and continued with her life as best she can.
But as the pain in her right side continues and worsens, the metals she's allergic to are increasing her risk of developing to auto-immune disease and of other serious health issues.
"Some days are better than others. Some days are worse than others, pain-wise. I can't remember what it feels like to not have pain in my jaw and headaches."
Tamara knows she needs to have the right joint replaced, but due to at an out-of-pocket cost of $20,000 on top of tens of thousands of dollars spent on her first two surgeries, as well as childcare and travel costs, she can't afford it.
That's why her good friend Kristyn Norton set up a GoFundMe page, in hopes that it will help ease the financial burden on Tamara and allow her to move on from this stage in her life and finally be pain-free.
It won't be a simple surgery. First, the metal joint she is allergic to needs to be removed, with her jaw wired shut and left that way for at least six weeks, living off smoothies and pureed food while her bone heals. Only then can she have the joint replaced with one that will hopefully leave her with full use of her mouth and pain-free. It also won't come cheap as her Medicare and top-level private health insurance only cover hospital fees and not for the cost of the surgeon performing it.
Listen: Syl Freedman knows a thing or two about chronic pain. Hear her chat to Mia Freedman about her experience with endometriosis. (Post continues...)
Despite all she has been through, Tamara is not one to complain.
As Kristyn puts it, "She has never asked for help, never sat and complained, she literally has just got on with it accepting that this is life. I couldn't even think about being this strong.
"And for that, I want to do whatever I can to help make this an easier process in some way. I cant take the pain away, but hopefully, we can help take some of the cost away!" she wrote on GoFundMe.
However, Tamara shared with Mamamia the impact this medical saga has had on her life these past five years.
"It just makes it so much harder I think being a single mum too, just the financial stress of it all. I do it all on my own. It does get me down, especially being the third time having to do this," she said,
"It's a horrible feeling. I spend all this money and time on having a normal functioning jaw. I see all these people around me buying houses or cars and that get's a bit hard sometimes.
"But then I try to tell myself it could be worse, it could be life-threatening."
Tamara said all the support that has come from the GoFundMe page has been "amazing" and really helped her to feel positive again. She's also looking forward to hopefully having her third and then fourth - and final - jaw surgery, and one day being pain-free.
"I would imagine at this rate it would be early next year, unless some miracle happens."
If you would like to help, you can donate to Tamara's GoFundMe page.