Up until the late 1950s, there was no such diagnosis as TMD (temporomandibular disorder). And it wasn’t until the 1980s that there was any kind of formal diagnosis or treatment for it. Can you believe that? There was no such thing as neuromuscular dentistry, nor were there ways to determine the cause of a patient’s unexplained jaw pain. Most were written off as psychogenic disorders—in other words, it was “all in their heads.”
All of that changed with the advancements of Dr. Bernard Jankelson in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dr. Jankelson essentially invented the field of neuromuscular dentistry—and the word is a better place for it.
Meet Dr. Jankelson
Dr. Jankelson was born in South Africa, raised in Saskatchewan, Canada, and trained at what is now the University of Oregon. As a trained dentist, Dr. Jankelson often came in contact with patients who suffered unexplainable pains and aches in their jaws. He was interested in the causes of his patients’ jaw pain and the way in which the jaw’s “maladjustments”—as he termed them—affected not only dental health but overall health as well.
This was a far cry from the typical response many doctors of the time resorted to. TMD had never been scientifically explored before the 1960s, but Dr. Jankelson wasn’t afraid of this unknown territory.
The Roots of Neuromuscular TMJ Dentistry
Dr. Jankelson’s work in measuring muscle tension in the jaw joint paved the way for studies on the complex relationship between the mandibular joint, face, neck, throat and mouth. Ultimately this pioneering work was the birth of the neuromuscular dentistry field, which studies how the muscles of the face, neck, throat, and mouth affect your dental health.
All of this work has led to the standardization and popularization of treatments for TMD. Now when you experience muscle pain, headaches, difficulty sleeping or eating, or any other symptoms of TMD, your dentist has the tools and knowledge to get to the bottom of it. Without the pioneering work of Dr. Jankelson, this would not be possible. It is this lasting mark on the world of dentistry and health care in general that makes Dr. Jankelson so important still today.
Looking to the Future
Long-term research is still aiming to wipe out TMD. Dr. Jankelson was first a prosthodontist, making dentures and other dental prosthetics. Researchers have, in a way, gone back to his roots, as they study ways of creating replacements for injured or malformed portions of the mandibular joint, discs, and chewing muscles. They are working on implants and prosthetic pieces that could repair the damage, properly position malformations and maladjustments, and end the pain and discomfort of TMD for good. We think Dr. Jankelson would be proud of where his pioneering has gone!
Stay tuned for part 2 to learn more about the field of neuromuscular dentistry, including the requirements and qualifications necessary to work in this challenging and fulfilling health care field.