TMJ - What It's All About
It is conservatively estimated that 40 to 50 million Americans suffer varied symptoms, including headaches and ear aches, as the direct result of dental stress. The cause is frequently unrecognized by physicians and dentists whose standard training hasn't equipped them to understand the relationship between the teeth, the jaw joints, and the alignment of the jaws, to the rest of the body. Many dentists are also unaware of how closely their work is linked to a patient's general health.
Consequently, thousands of chronic suffers go from one medical and dental specialist to another, often taking potent drugs which fail to bring relief, even having needless surgery when the pain becomes unbearable - or being referred to psychiatrists who cannot help them - simply because these experts are concentrating upon the symptoms without recognizing the cause. Most of these practitioners attach a psychiatric cause to a physical problem. Obviously, neurotic and psychotic problems will only make the TMJ problem even harder to treat, but it is not the chief cause. It is the pain that causes the neurosis, not the neurosis that causes the pain.
The cause, in countless cases, is a misalignment of the jaws and the temporomandibular joints (TMJ for short) - the joints where the lower jaw is hinged to the skull. Because this area is supplied by numerous nerves and blood vessels, a TMJ which is out of position can initiate devastating pain, which will not be relieved until the patient's jaws are correctly aligned.
This can be done is a variety of ways, from the wearing of an unobtrusive bite-plate, to the repositioning of the teeth, to changing the slopes of the teeth by selective grindings. Hospitalization and surgery are rarely necessary. Treatment will probably involve a series of relatively painless visits, and in the vast majority of cases it will bring amazing relief.
Dental stress in most people's opinion means the kind of ache that happens when a tooth needs a filling. It is not usually associated with a shattering migrane headache, a nagging back or neck ache, or a searing pain in the ear. Nor is it thought of in connection with dizziness, chronic fatigue, irritability, blocked or ringing ears, bouts of deafness, difficulty in swallowing, temporary loss of memory and arthritis - like joint pains or numbness of parts of the body that seem to have no relation to the TMJ.
A misaligned TMJ can affect blood vessels, nerves and muscles, causing severe headache or ear pain. Now imagine what can happen to the rest of the body. If the jaw is out of alignment, other skeletal structures (such as the cervical spine) can become involved which can result in other joints, nerves, muscles, and blood vessels being affected. As nature tries to compensated for one difficulty, others are likely to arise.
Dental stress from a misaligned TMJ is the worst kind of physical stress because there is no way the body can find relief from it. An injured limb can be rested, but it is impossible to leave the TMJ inactive. Without realizing it, we swallow hundreds of times a day, and at night we may clench or grind our teeth. To compensate for it, the jaw muscles begin to hold a tense, unnatural position, and before long the tension may travel by chain reaction throughout the body.
What causes the jaws, joints, and teeth to malfunction? In some cases it develops from birth. It may be the result of a forcep delivery. Incorrect chewing and swallowing habits are a frequent cause. Various other conditions must be considered, such as: dental malocclusion (with or without malposition of the jaw), premature loss of teeth, decrease in the vertical distance between the jaws, poorly fitting dental prostheses, erratic tooth eruption patterns, pipe clenching, other injurious oral habits (such as pen or pencil biting), one-sides chewing or disease of the temporomandibular joints. It can come from bad posture or work habits. It usually follows a traumatic injury, such as whiplash.
Ironically, many TMJ sufferers have excellent bone structure with healthy gums and teeth.
Treatment is mainly orthopedic in nature and attempts to correct the jaw relationship. This, in turn, allows muscles which are in spasm to relax and will reduce pain. The use of an orthopedic appliance helps to establish a correct jaw to jaw relationship. This of course, affects the relationship of lower to upper teeth. After Temporomandibular Joint Therapy is completed, dental treatment is usually required to establish the correct jaw relationship. The type and amount of dental care required varies with each individual and is not included in Temporomandibular Joint Therapy.
TMJ Therapy generally includes the following: an intraoral orthopedic appliance for the realignment of the jaw relationship, muscle treatments which may involve exercise, injection electrogalvanic stimulation, ultrasound, cold and hot packs and techniques helpful in the control of stress and tension.
Call Wesley Orthodontics to set up a TMJ Consultation
and start on your way to living free of TMJ symptoms and pain.