People become focused on their teeth and gums, but there is more involved in your overall oral health. That’s where neuromuscular dentistry comes into play. A neuromuscular dentist is concerned with the health of the teeth and gums, but also with how the teeth, jaw joints, and facial muscles work together to open and close your mouth. By considering the position of the teeth and how they relate to the function of the joints and muscles, the neuromuscular dentist seeks to balance the relationship for patients who are experiencing chronic pain or reduced function.
Dr. Smith and Dr. Hiebert is trained and has significant experience in neuromuscular dentistry.
What is neuromuscular dentistry and how does it differ from general dentistry?
General dentistry looks at the health of each individual tooth with the goal of addressing issues such as decay and tartar buildup. Neuromuscular dentistry views the teeth, jaw, head, and neck as an interrelated whole. This approach allows Dr. Smith or Dr. Hiebert to customize treatment plans that address problems such as jaw pain, overbites, unusual tooth wear, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
What Is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) refers to a group of related disorders that result from problems with the jaw or jaw joint, or facial muscles involved in jaw movement. TMD can cause discomfort and pain that may be constant or intermittent. These disorders are often incorrectly referred to as TMJ, which refers only to the temporomandibular joint itself. You can learn more by speaking with Dr. Smith or Dr. Hiebert.
What’s the difference between TMJ, TMD, and TMJD?
Much like dueling bureaucracies in Washington D.C., these three acronyms are often interchanged. But technically they shouldn’t be. TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that is involved in chewing, talking, even heavy breathing during exercise. With all of those letters, you can see why people seek to use an acronym for the temporomandibular joint. TMD actually stands for temporomandibular joint disorder, which is the reason you’re probably on this page because of the pain associated with your malfunctioning TMJ. TMJD spells out the disorder, but this acronym is not used.
Symptoms Of TMD
The symptoms of TMD may arise from any number of easily identifiable and treatable causes. This is including sinus infections, tooth decay or gum disease. With these conditions comes an array of symptoms, such as:
- Chronic facial pain in the face and jaw
- Limited ability to open the mouth wide
- Chronic facial pain in or around the ear
- Clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth
- Swelling on one or both sides of the face
- Headaches and neck aches
- Difficulty chewing
- Uncomfortable bite
Why is my temporomandibular joint causing pain?
The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull. This complicated joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions, enabling us to chew, talk, and breathe. When either the jaw or teeth are misaligned, or if there has been a traumatic injury, this can lead to a localized pain disorder called temporomandibular joint syndrome or disorder (TMD).
The Causes of TMD
There are many causes of TMD and many are out of peoples control. Most of the causes include trauma to the head or neck, or a natural misalignment of the upper or lower jaw. The common causes are:
- Bad bite
- Misalignment of the upper and lower jaws
- Trauma to the head or neck
- Bruxism (clenching or grinding of the teeth)
- Missing teeth
TMJ Headaches & Migraines
Many can not believe that your jaw could be the reason for your headaches, however, it can. The TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is a connective hinge from your jaw to your skill. This hinge allows us to do so many things including talking, laughing, chewing, the movement of our jaw up and down and side to side. This connection, if misaligned can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches.
What Causes TMJ Headaches?
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The bones that work together are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk. This keeps the movement of our jaws fluid and smooth.TMJ headaches are a part of the disorder and are simply a byproduct of different factors creating stress and pain in the joint:
- Congenital alignment problems
- Jaw alignment problems
- Jaw injury
- Teeth clenching
- Teeth grinding
- Worn-down teeth creating bite issues
Are there tests I can do at home to give me an idea if I have TMD?
There is a simple you can do at home to get an idea of the health of your TMJ. Here it is:
While opening your jaw slightly, place a finger over the joint in front of your ear. Now open wide until you can feel the joint move. If you feel the joint click or if it is tender when you press, you may have a temporomandibular joint disorder.
What are the dangers of not treating my TMD?
There are no real “dangers” in not addressing your TMD, but the pain will likely not go away. If the issues are stress related and you can eliminate that stress from your life, your condition can change. But simply dealing with the pain is a silly idea. Dr. Smith or Dr. Hiebert can get to the bottom of your TMD problems and find solutions.
Treating the symptoms of a tension headache won’t help with TMJ headaches. It can mask the pain, but the underlying causes will still be there and headaches will continue. At NW Heights Dental, we treat the TMJ. A variety of approaches are used to treat it from relaxation exercises at home to anti-inflammatory medications, from traditional dental work to creating a splint for nighttime use.
At NW Heights Dental, we’ve had good luck using night guards to keep patients from grinding their teeth. But sometimes, it’s a process of trial and error; we’ll try a certain approach and if it doesn’t have the desired effect, we’ll move to the next option. Methods for treating TMJ:
Cosmetic dentistry — To correct alignment, we can replace missing teeth with dental implants or bridges, crown overly worn teeth, or move the teeth with orthodontics. This can involve widening constricted arches.
Splints or night guards — Night grinding and clenching is often a main factor in TMJ. To combat this, it’s important to put the jaw in the correct position at night. To do this, we fabricate plastic mouthpieces that fit over the upper and lower teeth. Patients usually wear them at night.
Exercises — Tightening the jaw muscles and clenching the teeth is a common cause of TMJ problems. We have various jaw exercises that stimulate and relax the jaw muscles.
Medication — Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medication can be effective.
Lifestyle changes — Stress and anxiety are often root causes; stress reduction techniques are important.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — A small wand delivers small electrical pulses to the jaw muscles. These pulses stimulate the nerves, encouraging the muscles to relax and the jaw to fall into alignment.
TMJ Pain Relief
More extensive corrective treatments may take the form of surgery or injections for pain relief. Surgery for TMD may include arthroscopy or open-joint surgery. Some of the treatments may include:
- Stress-reduction exercises
- Muscle relaxants
- Low-level-laser therapy
- Mouth protectors to prevent-teeth grinding
- Change in diet to soft foods
- Heat/ice packs
- Avoidance of extreme jaw movements
Do I get my teeth fixed before I see you for TMD?
No. If you have symptoms of TMD, adjusting your bite and correcting issues such as overly worn teeth will all be a part of the solution.