Have you been experiencing unusual jaw pain or tenderness?
Random or temporary jaw soreness isn’t normally a cause for concern, but if you’re regularly experiencing jaw pain, you could have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
TMD affects about 10 million Americans. Despite the prevalence of TMD, researchers are still learning more about this disorder every day, especially in terms of its causes and which treatment plans work best. TMD can be a tricky disorder to diagnose and treat, but the good news is your dentist and doctor can help you manage and treat your TMD with a very high success rate.
Neuromuscular Imbalances and How to Tell If You Have TMD
A neuromuscular imbalance is a broad term used to describe disorders that affect communication between your nerves and your muscles.
Neuromuscular imbalances can either lead to overactive nerve-to-muscle control or a loss of muscle control. Overactive symptoms often involve muscle spasms, twitching, cramping, and pain. Loss of proper control will instead lead to muscle weakness and loss of movement, though odd twitching and pain can occur as well.
TMD can fall into the category of being both a musculoskeletal and neuromuscular imbalance disorder. Musculoskeletal relates to your facial muscles and facial bone structure, and a neuromuscular imbalance refers to your nerves sending incorrect signals to your facial muscles.
More often than not, this affects the temporomandibular joint, in which case the disorder is referred to as TMJ.
Common and Some Not-So-Common Symptoms of TMD
The most common symptom of TMD is soreness around the jaw or, in the case of TMJ, soreness around that particular jaw joint. Those aren’t the only symptoms of TMD/TMJ, though.
You may also experience:
- Clicking or popping sensations in your jaw
- Difficulty fully opening your jaw
- Constant headaches
- Feeling like your ears won’t pop
- Ringing in your ears
- Stiffness in your shoulders, neck, and back
- Unexplained tooth damage (unusual wear, chipping)
- Feeling like your teeth ache
Most symptoms of TMD/TMJ are broad, so it’s a good idea to get checked out quickly rather than waiting.
Diagnosing Your TMD/TMJ Symptoms
If you’re experiencing the symptoms covered above, chances are you likely have some sort of temporomandibular disorder. However, as with any type of health condition, it’s vital you get a proper diagnosis from your dentist or doctor.
How TMD Can Affect Your Oral and Overall Health
Untreated TMD/TMJ could cause permanent damage to your teeth.
Teeth grinding or jaw clenching tend to coincide with TMD, either as a cause of developing TMD or a result of subconsciously dealing with jaw pain. Either way, grinding, gnashing, or clenching your teeth not only causes jaw pain, but it also can lead to permanent teeth damage.
It’s not unusual for someone with untreated TMD to have excessive wear and tear on their teeth from grinding. Cracks in the teeth, chipping, and even a tooth breaking are all very real possibilities as well. Tooth damage is permanent, but once your TMD is under control, you can fix this damage through restorative or cosmetic dentistry.
Dealing with inflammation and pain on a constant basis is detrimental to your overall health.
Aside from your oral health, TMD/TMJ also negatively affects your overall health.
Chronic jaw pain can make everything from eating to sleeping difficult. As these areas of your life are affected, it’s easy to feel irritable, anxious, and even depressed. Chronic pain can also bring down your immune system and increase your risk of serious health conditions, like heart disease.
Inflammation from TMD can also affect your overall health. Inflammation may begin in the jaw area but can gradually spread to other areas in your body. A good example of this is how gum inflammation (gum disease) can increase risks of stroke, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and more.
Physiologic Dentistry and Treatment Options for Patients With TMD
Physiologic Dentistry and How Your Dentist Plays a Role in Treatment
When you think of getting help with a health issue, usually your general doctor is who springs to mind. You certainly should inform your doctor of any sort of health changes, but in the case of TMD, a neuromuscular dentist can play a significant role in treatment.
Neuromuscular or physiologic dentistry is a field of dentistry that focuses on helping patients with conditions like TMJ find relief by bringing balance back to their jaw through realignment. Physiologic dentistry is generally nonsurgical in nature and instead utilizes a few different types of technology.
At Berrien Dental, we use four main types of technology in the treatment of TMD/TMJ:
- Sonography: Sonograms use ultrasound waves to create a digital image of how your jaw and the temporomandibular joint is moving. This allows us to pick up misalignment issues we normally couldn’t see.
- EMG: EMG testing is used to diagnose neuromuscular issues by tracking electrical signals between the nerves and muscles in your jaw.
- Jaw Tracking: Seeing exactly how your jaw moves is vital in treating TMD. This step uses a special headset and magnet to track your jaw’s trajectory and mobility range.
- TENS: Using a low-frequency TENS unit, we can relax the muscles in the head and neck to true physiologic rest. We can then determine a correct bite position based on how your jaw is aligned at proper rest.
Additional Treatment Options for TMD or TMJ
In additional to physiologic dentistry, some other helpful options for getting relief during treatment include:
- Taking anti-inflammatory, pain relievers, or a muscle relaxant (under doctor’s orders)
- Going to physical therapy to stretch and regain strength in your jaw or facial muscles
- Seeking counseling or other help for stress management (if stress is causing your TMD)
- Asking your dentist about wearing a mouth guard
Get relief from your symptoms with a visit to Berrien Dental.
Living with symptoms like jaw pain and headaches doesn’t have to be your new normal. TMD symptoms are treatable, and you could get relief sooner than you might think.
If you suspect you have TMD or you’ve already been diagnosed, you can start your journey toward a pain-free life with a visit to Berrien Dental. Best of all, while we’re helping you with your TMD/TMJ treatment plan, you can continue to visit us for all of your dental care needs. Our dentists provide restorative dentistry, cosmetic services, laser dentistry, and periodontal care.
When you’re ready to book a TMD/TMJ consultation, you can either call our office directly or fill out our online appointment request form and select neuromuscular consult.