Neuromuscular Dentistry refers to the study of the entire system that controls the positioning and function of the jaw. The main focus of neuromuscular dentistry is the treatment and subsequent correction of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) and the various problems that are associated with it. Neuromuscular Dentistry is highly advanced and aims to eliminate oral pain and discomfort by understanding how to objectively and scientifically measure muscle function and its correlation to proper jaw posture and jaw movement, which was initially not addressed by traditional dentists.
TMJ and TMD – The connection
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) refer to a series of different physical problems that occur when the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) goes out of alignment. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skull, that is immediately in front of the ear on either side of the head. These joints are flexible and they allow the jaw to perform several functions such as talk, eat, yawn, breathe etc. Muscles that are attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control the position and movement of the jaw. TMD puts excess strain and subsequently causes extreme pain of the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding facial muscles that control chewing and movement of the jaw.
TMJ Dysfunction is an extremely painful condition which causes chronic facial pain for sufferers. The primary aim of Neuromuscular Dentistry is to combine the knowledge of the teeth, mouth, jaw, gums, oral and facial tissues in order to treat severe conditions like TMD. It is an extension of conventional dental techniques which focuses on occlusion. A qualified TMJ dentist can determine exactly what is going on and how to go about repairing the damage and the resolution doesn’t need surgery. That’s right. The fix does not require surgery.
Symptoms of TMJ/ TMD
TMJ symptoms are diverse and include:
- Jaw ache
- Sever headaches
- Jaws that get “stuck” or “lock” in the open- or closed-mouth position
- Pain in the ear and face
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Pain or spasms in the shoulder and neck muscles
- Shortened teeth from grinding
- Inability to open very wide
- A change in your bite
- Numbness in arms, hands or fingers and postural issues
TMJ related Headaches & Migraines
The strained muscles in the head, face and neck often lead to severe headaches, which are so painful and frequent that they can be misdiagnosed as migraines. When the muscles are constantly strained or contracted they can cause tension headaches. TMJ headaches are also caused by a build-up of blood pressure. When the muscles in the face, head, and neck are strained, they prevent blood from flowing to the correct places. As a result, your body tries to correct this problem by pumping in more blood to the area, thereby increasing blood pressure which in turn causes a lot of pain and puts extra pressure around the head. This is referred to as a vascular headache.
In case of such symptoms, a neuromuscular dentist should be consulted, who will work with you to determine if your headaches or migraines are indeed caused by TMJ, its causes and possible solutions. First step will be to relax the muscles around the joints and eliminate the pain they are causing. Then, the jaw will be stabilized so that the best treatment can be determined. Finally, you will be allowed to discuss with your doctor and come up with a long-term treatment that you are comfortable with.
Causes of TMD
TMJ disorders arise from a condition called Malocclusion which refers to a condition when the upper and lower jaw do not close together in a correct way and result in underbites and overbites. Such kinds of misaligned teeth cannot provide the necessary support the muscles in the face need for tasks like swallowing and chewing. This exerts a lot of strain on the muscles, thereby causing pain throughout the head, face, shoulders, arms and back.
Who suffers from TMD?
Majority of people suffer to a greater or lesser degree from TMD. Although women report excessive pain from TMD, TMD in men causes more or as much damage to the gums, bones, teeth and joints. Young children are extremely sensitive to TMD and usually show early signs with ear infections, leaning their head on their arm, lip, cheek or finger biting, sucking and chewing, headaches and snoring, grinding of teeth at night and significant chewing of gum.
The aim of Neuromuscular Dentistry is to correct the bite and ensure proper realignment of the jaw. TMJ treatment includes various steps to adjust the bite, make use of orthotics, orthodontics and restoring the teeth in their correct positions. Treatment for TMJ include the use of sophisticated computer analysis and low-frequency Transcutaneous Electro-neural Stimulation (TENS), as a result of which your jaw and joints can be brought back to a balanced position, thereby correcting any misaligned bite and gradually eliminating TMD symptoms.
The TENS unit relaxes your muscles, which in turn allows the doctors to measure their electrical activity to determine the ideal position of the jaw in relation to the skull. Then by using Electromyography (EMG), your doctor can accurately measure the presence of muscle stress to find an optimum bite. Sometimes, sonography is also used to detect any popping or clicking that invariably indicates muscular disharmony or degenerative joints.
A combination of non-invasive therapies are also used for treating TMJ and include braces, dental devices, orthotics and a complete rejuvenation of smile that can eliminate pain, embarrassment and discomfort.
DNA Appliance – The new kid on the block
DNA appliance (Daytime-Nighttime Appliance) is a modern, pain-free treatment option that is primarily aimed at treating and curing headaches and facial pain related to TMJ disorders. The DNA appliance works by permanently optimizing the underlying structure of the airway. This device widens the nasal passages and the upper arch which in turn causes the lower arch to move into an ideal position. The result is that this innovative approach can be successfully used to treat a number of problems like:
- It helps align and straighten teeth
- It relieves the symptoms of TMJ disorder
- It reshapes the bones to improve airflow even when you are not wearing the appliance
- Permanently cures the symptoms of sleep apnea