TMJ (and TMD) stand for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. This is the jaw joint, which can be felt if you place a finger in front of one ear and open your mouth. This a sensitive joint that can be knocked or slowly pulled out of alignment. Then a variety of uncomfortable and painful symptoms can arise:
• Clicking or popping noises in the jaw
• Bad headaches
• Jaw-joint pain
• Facial pain
• Reduced jaw mobility
• Neck and shoulder pain
• Ringing in the ears
These are just a few of the symptoms and each TMD sufferer has a unique combination of symptoms, with unique relative severities. Some people resign themselves to a life of these painful symptoms, having tried many doctors and many medications to no effect. But if the symptoms have a dental cause, you need to consult a dentist, in particular, a neuromuscular dentist.
Neuromuscular dentistry realigns the bite and puts the jaw joint into its ideal position. When this is done, the TMJ symptoms are usually relieved. There is a complex relationship between the jaw joint and its related structures (muscles, nerves, blood supply etc.) To be able to successfully diagnose and treat TMJ, a dentist needs post-graduate training, such as is offered at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (LVI).
This world-renowned school gives intensive theoretical and hands-on training in both cosmetic dentistry and neuromuscular dentistry. With this detailed knowledge, and with special diagnostic tools, an experienced neuromuscular dentist can tell you if your symptoms have a dental cause, and if they do, can treat them and their underlying conditions.
Causes of TMJ Disorder
The causes are not fully understood. The joint itself is a ball-and-socket joint with a cartilage pad cushioning the bones. It can be knocked out of alignment by an impact to the side of the head, such as you might receive in an auto or sports accident. In some cases it’s caused, or at least made worse, by a habit of teeth grinding. Alternatively, teeth grinding can be a symptom of TMJ.
Other contributing causes are arthritis, birth injury, and genetic conditions.
The jaw joints are operated by muscles, attached to the bones by tendons. Major nerves run through the whole area with many branches, extending even down to the fingers. Bones, tendons, muscles and nerves are nourished by a blood supply. When the joint is misaligned, and the upper and lower teeth come together in an incorrect way, bumping or rubbing against each other, the jaw muscles try to correct this. Over time, they get chronically strained, inflamed, and swollen. Swelling puts pressure on nerves, which gives you pain wherever that nerve is.
Factors which can exacerbate TMJ:
• Clenching teeth
• Grinding teeth
• Inability to relax
• Lack of sleep
• Poor diet
• Poor posture
Treatment of TMJ
Dental diagnosis of TMJ uses specialized equipment like the K7 Evaluation System. It records jaw joint sounds, measures jaw movements, however miniscule, and diagrams muscle activity.
Use of a TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electro Neural Stimulation) will relax the jaw muscles and relieve pain. This new relaxed position gives the dentist information about direction of treatment, because the goal of treatment is to make this relaxed position permanent. By studying the detailed information gathered by the K7 system, a treatment plan is customized for you.
Your treatment will address the exact condition of your jaw joint, teeth, and gums and even take into account your personality and lifestyle habits. A neuromuscular dentist will focus on correcting your bite and may also work with you on some lifestyle issues.
Possible treatment measures are:
• A device to be worn during the night which prevents tooth grinding
• An orthotic worn all the time for a few months to retrain the jaw muscles
• Reshaping, repositioning or reconstruction of some teeth
• Anti-inflammatory medication
• Temporary diet changes to avoid hard or chewy foods
• At-home use of a TENS unit
• Hot or cold treatments to relax muscles and reduce pain
• Work on posture
In some cases, a massage therapist or psychological counselor or medical doctor may participate in treatment.
It’s hard to believe so many problems can originate from one joint in the body, but that’s why neuromuscular dentistry is so important. Once the jaw joint is in its proper place and the bite is realigned, many, if not all, of these symptoms will disappear.
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