Our bodies are very complex, and the mechanisms by which they provide feedback to us are even more subtle and complex. In fact, many subjective symptoms can be difficult to track back to their source, or find any objective justification for what is causing the symptoms.

That may be the case with people who come in our office complaining that their bite doesn’t feel right, even though all our measurements show that the jaw is in an optimal position. This disorder is called occlusal discomfort syndrome (ODS), a newly defined condition that may or may not be related to your TMJ.

Defining Occlusal Discomfort Syndrome

We have just seen the new definition for occlusal discomfort syndrome, proposed by the Japanese Prosthodontic Society. The condition has been under debate for many years, starting in 2011, when Japanese dentists were starting to experience the problem of patients coming in to complain about a bite that didn’t feel right, but measured as healthy, the JPS convened a meeting to try to define the condition and recommend treatment guidelines.

Several potential names for the condition were considered, such as occlusal dysesthesia. Dysesthesia describes a condition in which touches to the body are registered as unpleasant or even painful stimuli. However, it was decided that the condition was too disparate from actual dysesthesia to create a textual similarity, so the JPS decided on Occlusal Discomfort Syndrome.

Physiologic and Psychological Explanations

When we tell patients that we can’t find a bite problem to explain what they’re feeling, they’re afraid that we’re going to tell them their condition is imagined. However, this is not the case at all. While it’s true that sometimes there are psychological factors that contribute to the development of occlusal discomfort syndrome, there are also physiologic explanations.

One possible cause is referred sensations. As we’ve discussed before, referred pain is a mysterious phenomenon, but it occurs when pain in one part of the body is felt in another part of the body. Occlusal sensations are normal to your brain, and it expects to receive and interpret them. Other sensations from the jaw area are not as common, so it’s possible that your brain is misinterpreting disorder somewhere else in the mouth as a signal from your teeth.

Perhaps a more common explanation is sensitization. Sensitization is when your nerves or brain begins to magnify the intensity of normal bodily sensations. If you have this condition, your normal contact feelings might be magnified so that they make your jaw feel like it’s not fitting together right. Sensitization can occur either at the point where the sensations occur–peripheral sensation–or in your brain–central sensitization.

Sensitization can be very difficult to treat.

Does Occlusal Discomfort Syndrome Cause TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) are a lot more complex than people used to believe. We are coming to understand that it can be caused by a variety of factors, and that some people even think it should be more properly described as a cluster of disorders. Sensitization disorders may play an important role in TMJ for many people. For these people, adjusting the jaw will likely provide little benefit and may cause significant harm.

That’s why it’s important to take all factors into account when planning TMJ treatment.

We’ll Help You Find the Right Treatment

We will only adjust your jaw if we can positively diagnose TMJ-related jaw displacement and are confident that adjusting your bite will bring you positive results. If we have reason to believe that you need other treatments in addition to or instead of occlusal adjustments, we will refer you to someone who can provide the treatment that will benefit you.

To learn more about TMJ, occlusal discomfort syndrome, and other causes of jaw pain or headaches in Columbia, SC, please call (803) 781-9090 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.