Although the painful condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder (also referred to as TMJ or TMD) is a dental-centric problem, its uncomfortable symptoms are felt throughout the body, from recurring headaches to back pain to tingling in the hands and fingers.
Because the symptoms of TMJ disorder can be vague, and many indicators are shared by other medical problems, it can be difficult for dentists and physicians without experience in neuromuscular dentistry to properly diagnose and treat. When presented with what is actually TMJ, many health professionals misdiagnose the problem and treat only the symptoms.
How Can a Neuromuscular Dentist Help?
As with other medical professions, dentistry includes specialized fields that focus on particular anatomical areas and conditions. One of those fields is neuromuscular dentistry.
A neuromuscular dentist is a dentist who has undergone intensive post-graduate training into the working relationships between the nerves, joints, muscles and other connective components in the region where the jaw attaches to the skull.
This tiny, but densely packed, zone contains nerves that register feeling throughout the face and relay sensations to other parts of the body. Bite conditions (also known as malocclusions), jaw alignment problems or injuries to the jaw can place undue stress on this sensitive network of nerves, muscles, joints, tendons and bones, causing headaches of migraine-like intensity, neck and shoulder pain, jaw sticking and popping, earaches, and other symptoms.
Diagnosing TMJ Disorder
Neuromuscular dentists are dedicated to treating the cause of TMJ, not just the symptoms. This begins with an accurate diagnosis.
TMJ assessment uses state-of-the-art technology to evaluate your bite and jaw alignment, and track the motion of your jaw. One of the most powerful tools in the successful diagnosis and treatment of TMJ is the iCat Cone Beam Imaging system, which provides 3-D images of your bite structure and jaw position.
This comprehensive assessment of your mouth, jaw and associated working parts allows your dentist to recommend the most effective treatment for your individual needs.
Treating TMJ Disorder
One of the most successful TMJ treatments is also used in the diagnostic process: the TENS unit.
TENS is an acronym for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and the TENS device uses a mild electrical current to relax your jaw muscles and permit your jaw to rest in a comfortable, natural position. For many patients, occasional TENS sessions are successful in maintaining optimal jaw position and providing long-term pain relief.
Patients who suffer from bite conditions or jaw alignment problems may benefit from an orthotic device, sometimes referred to as a bite splint or oral splint. These devices are custom-made for your bite, and they fit comfortably and snugly over the teeth to hold your jaw in proper alignment. In cases of severe malocclusions, orthodontics and/or tooth restorations may be recommended to correct the bite problem. If severe damage to the joint has occurred, we may have no option but surgery. This should be considered a last resort because it has significant complications and a spotty record of success.
You don’t have to suffer from the headaches and other discomfort associated with TMJ. If you live in the Denver area, please consider a consultation with TMJ dentist Dr. Kevin Barry at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado. Dr. Barry has extensive experience helping patients treat this common, and commonly misdiagnosed, condition. Please call (303) 691-0267 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.