TMJ, Teeth, and Headaches: What is the Connection?

Springfield, MO - TMJ Treatment

Do you look at yourself and see that your teeth are shorter than they once were? Do you ever experience an annoying ringing in your ears? Or worse yet, do you constantly suffer from stress headaches? If so, you may be experiencing some of the symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, more commonly known as TMD. The temporomandibular joint is commonly known as the jaw joint or TMJ. It is a very complex structure that is located in an intricate area of bones that works in harmony with many areas of the body which all can be affected when it is not functioning properly.

TMD is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that includes headaches, facial pain and TMJ jaw pain. Clicking or popping of the jaw as well as limited opening or closing of the jaw are also signs of joint problems. Other symptoms of TMD affect the teeth and can present as sore, worn, broken or chipped teeth. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can also lead to pain in the neck, shoulders and back. Ear ringing (tinnitus) and restricted airway can also be associated with jaw joint problems.

You may be thinking, there is no way my teeth could be causing that ringing in my ears or that nagging headache. Interestingly, most cases of TMD are caused by a condition called malocclusion. A malocclusion exists when the teeth do not fit together properly. Malocclusion includes underbites, overbites, crowding or spacing. Also, missing teeth can result in shifting of surrounding teeth, leading to a malocclusion. It is also important to note that some people may have beautiful natural or orthodontically straightened teeth that are not located in a position where the supporting muscles and joints are comfortable resulting in TMD symptoms.

Neuromuscular dentistry is a branch of general dentistry that studies the system of teeth, muscles and jaw joints and, specifically, how these structures come together into the bite, or occlusion. When this physiologic system is out of balance because the teeth do not fit together properly, the muscles and joints will work overtime in order to bring the teeth together. This much effort over time can lead to sore muscles and sometimes a breakdown in the structure of the teeth and jaw joints. The neuromuscular approach is a non-surgical TMJ therapy considers the physiology of the muscles, joints, nerves, and teeth before any treatment is rendered.

The first phase (Phase 1) of treatment includes a comprehensive evaluation of the teeth, jaw joints, neck muscles, and airway and supporting muscles to determine if the presenting signs and symptoms are in fact dental related. When this is established, the first phase of TMJ treatment can begin.

The principle of physiologic-based dentistry lies in getting the muscles to a comfortable position with reversible therapy prior to performing any definitive treatment.

The muscles are relaxed using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device. This device delivers gentle electrical stimulation to the muscles in order to overcome the programming that has occurred through functioning in the previous adaptive position. Once the muscles are relaxed, the comfortable jaw position is recorded and used to create a reversible removable appliance.

This removable appliance is worn for several months until the muscles are comfortable. When a case is more severe, the neuromuscular general dentist may also use jaw tracking devices and electromyography to monitor muscle activity and ensure the muscles reach their true comfortable position.

Once the symptoms of TMD are relieved, then the second phase of treatment can begin. Phase II therapy involves changing the bite to coincide with the comfortable muscle position established during the first phase of treatment. Treatment options in this phase include fabrication of an overlay partial/appliance or adjustment of the natural tooth structure when the bite is only slightly out of line.

When the teeth are aesthetically and structurally sound, neuromuscular orthodontics can be performed by a specially trained dentist such as Dr. Randi Green. If aesthetic changes are indicated in addition to bite correction, porcelain restorations are used to rehabilitate the bite to the new position.

If you answered yes to any of the questions at the beginning of the article, there is hope to relieve your pain and suffering. While there are many approaches to treating TMD, neuromuscular dentistry is an area that has helped many individuals who once suffered from this often debilitating condition.

By addressing the root cause, the muscles, through reversible methods first, patients treated by this approach benefit from known symptom relief prior to any extensive and expensive treatment.

If you are suffering from TMD symptoms it is important to note that the area is continually advancing and you should choose a provider who is up-to-date and current in the latest technologies.

Dr. Randi Green, LVI Fellow, has completed and continues to pursue extensive advanced training at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, the world-wide leading dental education center for aesthetics and treatment of TMD.

Through this training, Dr. Green exhibits her commitment to excellence in education and practicing this passion and knowledge while caring for her patients in the Springfield, MO area.


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