Neuromuscular dental treatment gives TMJ sufferers a new lease on life.
The National Institute of Craniofacial Research estimates that over 10 million people in the United States suffer from a painful temporomandibular joint dysfunction, commonly known as TMJ. TMJ causes pain in the face, neck and ears and makes chewing painful or difficult. The disorder can cause clicking or popping sounds when opening and closing the mouth or while chewing. Some TMJ sufferers also report that their jaws can lock closed which can make opening the mouth difficult.
TMJ is a neuromuscular disorder that impacts the temporomandibular joints. The temporomandibular joints are located on each side of the face where the lower jaw connects to the skull. The construction of the temporomandibular joint is unique compared to other joints, because of its hinge action coupled with its ability to slide. The joint is also made up of cartilage and has 2 small disks known as condyles that serve to cushion bones when the joint is engaged.
TMJ occurs when cartilage becomes worn, or when the jaw shifts out of place. These conditions allow the jaw and the temporomandibular joint to painfully rub against each other when in use. Other causes of TMJ include arthritis, injury and behaviors such as grinding teeth.
The pain associated with TMJ can be intermittent or long-lasting. Numerous TMJ patients experience long lasting, chronic pain coupled with ringing in the ears, dizziness and vision problems. TMJ sufferers often feel their quality of life is diminished because of TMJ and its many side effects and believe that the pain impacts their jobs, relationships and their ability to participate in activities or interests. Many patients, despite their pain and discomfort, do not seek out professional treatment to treat or cure their TMJ symptoms.
TMJ patients may not seek professional care for TMJ pain because symptoms are sporadic. Many sufferers manage their pain with over the counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen. Relaxation techniques, cold therapy and limiting jaw movement also can also help ease symptoms for some people. While these self-care treatments help patients temporarily manage their TMJ pain, they do not treat the underlying cause of the disorder. Other patients seeking care from professionals may find themselves redirected back to self-care treatments to manage their symptoms, become frustrated and give up hope of leading a pain-free life.
Some patients do not seek professional treatment for TMJ pain simply because they do not know they have the disorder. They believe their pain is a result of other conditions like migraines or back problems. Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S, P.S., of Everett, Washington, frequently encounters TMJ sufferers who have endured painful symptoms for long periods of time but have never received a TMJ diagnosis. "Many of our TMJ patients come to us after suffering for years with pain without understanding its root cause," Norman said. "They manage their symptoms and pain with over the counter treatments, but find true relief through neuromuscular dentistry."
Neuromuscular dentistry is a specialty field of dentistry that treats conditions like TMJ by examining the dental, muscular and skeletal alignment of patients in order to correct jaw misalignment that causes TMJ and bite malocclusion. Neuromuscular dentists use tools like sonography to assess the level of misalignment and determine the best course of action to realign the jaw and teeth. The assessment and realignment process takes several visits, but the benefits are significant says Dr. Norman, "When everything in its proper place – muscles, jaw, bite – the body can hold itself properly and allow muscles and the patient to relax." Patients report a reduction in pain or complete pain relief after completing jaw realignment and report improvement in their quality of life.