TMJ, the abbreviation for the progressively painful condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, is a challenge for many dentists and physicians to diagnose because its symptoms are felt throughout the body and are often associated with other health problems.
If you experience chronic headaches and other uncomfortable but vague symptoms like the jaw popping or clicking, and neck and shoulder pain, you may want to seek the help of a dentist with experience in neuromuscular dentistry.
What is Neuromuscular Dentistry?
Neuromuscular Dentistry is a field of dentistry that focuses on the relationships between the nerves, muscles, joints, bones and other components in the connective region between the jaw and the skull. The principles of neuromuscular dentistry, as well as methods for the diagnosis and treatment of conditions like TMJ, are taught at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, a renowned post-graduate institution for dentists.
Dentists with training and hands-on experience in neuromuscular dentistry understand how jaw injuries, bite conditions, and jaw alignment problems can cause migraine-like headaches, earaches, back pain and other symptoms that may evade the diagnosis of other dentists and doctors.
As with other health conditions, TMJ diagnosis begins with an assessment of your symptoms, a thorough review of your medical history, and a comprehensive exam. Your TMJ examination employs advanced technology to map your jaw, track jaw movement and muscle stress, and analyze sounds made by jaw motion.
TMJ diagnosis also employs a tool that, for many people, provides relief from the discomfort of TMJ. That tool is TENS, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. TENS uses mild electrical current to relax your jaw muscles; think of it as an electric massage for your face.
TENS allows your jaw to settle into a comfortable, natural resting position. This provides your dentist an opportunity to evaluate your jaw and bite without the tension created by contracting muscles, which can force your jaw into a stressed position.
Treatment for TMJ depends on the cause and severity of your unique condition. For some people, occasional TENS sessions are sufficient to provide long-term relief.
Those who suffer from a malocclusion (bite problem) or misaligned jaw may require another approach. Many patients are able to relieve TMJ pain through the use of an orthotic device, sometimes called an oral splint or bite splint; these instruments are worn similarly to sports mouth guards, but they are custom crafted to fit your individual bite and help hold your jaw in its proper position. For patients with more severe bite conditions or excessive dental wear, orthodontics or dental restorations may be recommended.