Anyone who has had temporomandibular joint issues knows the pain and myriad symptoms it can cause. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ disorders) are those that relate to the muscles and joints that connect your lower jaw to your skull and aid in the process of chewing. TMJ disorders can cause an incredibly broad range of symptoms, including (but not limited to)
These symptoms are caused by structural abnormalities in the muscles of the jaw through the neck, nearby ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels, teeth, and nerves. Other causes can even be attributed to poor posture, bad diet, arthritis, or teeth grinding. Ear, sinus, and tooth infections may also stem from TMD and be an ancillary symptom of this deeper problem. Because of this broad array of symptoms, this type of disorder can be difficult to diagnose.
Neuromuscular dentistry aims to relieve symptoms of this frustrating condition by expertly placing the jaw back into its optimal position. Let’s take a step back and look at how these dentists go about determining a TMD diagnosis.
At the Doctor’s Office
The evaluation often begins with a complete dental and medical review of a patient who is suffering from a suspected TMJ disorder. The dentist will look for poor bite alignment, tenderness in the joints and muscles, and noise associated with jaw movement (such as clicking, grinding, or popping). Any history of pain associated with chewing or a lack of range of motion will be reviewed, the mouth’s path of closure will be assessed, and the dentist will also look at the teeth themselves to search for unusual signs of wear (such as flattened ridges). In addition, other issues such as infections or nerve-related problems must first be ruled out in favor of a TMJ diagnosis.
Once this preliminary judgment is made, a neuromuscular dentist can then move on to determine the exact location of the symptoms. With the use of x-rays, computerized jaw tracking instruments, and electromyography (a diagnostic procedure that assesses the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles) neuromuscular dentists measure jaw muscle function and structural balance. Sonography is also used to record joint sounds. An MRI may also be performed in order to further evaluate the soft tissue structures around the jaw.
Once diagnosed, symptoms can be treated with rest, cold packs, massage, anti-inflammatory medications, electrical nerve stimulation, orthotics, orthodontics, or surgery.
Although the term “neuromuscular dentist” is a bit daunting, visiting one of these specialists to address possible TMJ disorder symptoms is anything but that. With some routine examinations and some high-tech help, a neuromuscular dentist can find out of a TMJ disorder is at the root of your unexplained pain.