Restoring Your Trust in Your Jaws

Every day we trust our jaws to let us eat, speak, smile, and swallow. These actions are staples in the fabric of our daily lives, like blinking or breathing. We don’t wake up wondering if our jaws are going to work. They just do—until they don’t. Problems with the jaw muscles, nerves, or joints can lead to a wide range of symptoms that can make it hard to make it through a day without thinking about them. Symptoms like frequent jaw pain and headaches are clear signs that something isn’t right, yet they are easy to overlook or misattribute.

These symptoms can range from distracting to debilitating, but they don’t have to! Identifying the cause behind your symptoms (with the help of the best dentists near St. Joseph, MI) is the first step to recovering from your neuromuscular condition. But what exactly are the symptoms, and what can your dentist do to help? Let’s find out.

What is neuromuscular dentistry?

Your jaws are complex—they have to be able to give you the range of motion that they should! Neuromuscular dentistry takes this into account, examining your teeth as well as the joints, muscles, and nerves that make up your jaws to ensure that everything is working together properly. Everyone’s jaws have an ideal alignment where the joints and muscles relax more fully. Neuromuscular dentistry goes beyond typical treatments involving your bite, or occlusion, to make sure that your jaws are in their ideal alignment. Proper alignment helps relieve and prevent neuromuscular dental problems like TMD.

What are the symptoms of a neuromuscular dental problem?

Our entire bodies are interconnected in ways we don’t often think about, so neuromuscular dental problems don’t just cause jaw pain and other problems. They can cause many symptoms that you may not even realize are connected, including:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw clicking or popping
  • Limited jaw movement
  • Lockjaw
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Poor oral posture
  • Clenching or grinding teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Frequent or severe headaches
  • Earaches
  • Tinnitus
  • Pain behind your eyes
  • Muscle tension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiff, sore muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back
  • Tingling or numbness in your fingers or arms
  • Nerve pain or trigeminal neuralgia
  • Neck pain

How will my dentist diagnose jaw pain?

In addition to examining your teeth and listening for any jaw clicking or popping, your dentist may use dental technology to get a better look at your temporomandibular joints (TMJ) or the way your muscles and nerves are functioning. Digital X-rays and ultrasounds are used to identify jaw misalignment by getting a good look at your teeth and joints. Ultrasounds measure the movements and vibrations in the joint, and jaw tracking is used to analyze your jaw movements in 3D detail, which helps your dentist spot issues with the way your jaws move. Issues with the muscles and nerves surrounding your jaws can also be identified through electromyography, or EMG, by recording the muscles’ electrical activity. These dental technologies provide several methods of diagnosing different issues surrounding your TMJ.

How will my dentist treat it?

TMD issues have such a wide range of symptoms that you might wonder if they are treatable. The answer is yes! The way your dentist treats these issues depends on what exactly is causing your symptoms. Since TMD symptoms are sometimes caused by something as simple as poor oral posture or weak facial muscles, treatment is sometimes as easy as strengthening the jaw muscles through daily exercise. This restores your jaw function and muscle balance in your face, neck, shoulders, and back. A TENS unit, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, can also be used to deliver low-frequency electrical stimulation to your head and neck muscles. This helps them relax and encourages a healthy jaw position, relieving symptoms like jaw pain, muscle tension, and soreness until long-term solutions take effect.

Orthodontic treatments are a common way to correct jaw misalignment and relieve symptoms. These can be combined with other treatments, like jaw exercises, to provide more effective, long-term results. Sometimes you may need to replace dental restorations like crowns to create an ideal bite that fits together naturally and allows your jaw to fully relax. When there’s a problem in the TMJ itself, such as damage from an injury, arthritis, or a condition like Ehler-Danlos syndrome, more involved treatments might be necessary to address the problem.

What is the long-term prognosis for jaw pain?

Getting a diagnosis is the first step toward treating the root cause of your symptoms and helping you feel better. Although it sometimes takes a little trial and error to find the treatment that works best for you, the results are worth it. In many cases, TMD symptoms are significantly reduced or eliminated.

Your jaws are complex, but there’s a reason we tend to trust them to do their job so well day in and day out—they’re designed for it! Finding and treating the source of your symptoms can restore your confidence in your whole smile. If you’d like to learn more from the best dentists near St. Joseph, MI, about how a neuromuscular condition could be causing your symptoms, call our team or go online today to schedule your evaluation!