SAN DIEGO -- Jon woke up one day with a terrible migraine.
They were starting to become more frequent, and although he’d seen his primary care physician about the ongoing problem, none of the standard remedies were providing any sort of substantial relief. As time goes on, he also found himself dealing with terrible neck/back pain as well as a number of other highly unpleasant physiological symptoms.
Eventually, when Jon is referred to see a neurologist (who just so happens to be married to an oral surgeon,) the gray-haired man in the white lab coat suggests he make an appointment with his dentist, instead.
Why? Because the neurologist knew that the symptoms he was experiencing were all signs of temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ.
In layman’s terms, TMJ is a fancy acronym describing a condition in which the joints just in front of your ears become inflamed because of a misalignment due to a bad bite. That misalignment, if substantial enough, can cause headaches, jaw aches, clicking and popping in the jaw, tooth wear and clenching.
Dr. Rod Strober of Strober Dental said these are just several symptoms associated with TMJ.
“A majority of us have some form of bad bite because of either orthodontics, the way your teeth grew in as a result of having poor breathing habits as a kid,” Strober said. “If as a child you breathed through your mouth a lot as a result of allergies, that can reshape bone and tooth position and the body doesn’t necessarily accommodate. When that happens, muscles around your jaw work overtime to get the jaw in position, and they wind up doing more work than they’re meant to do. “
Because of that, he added, people may begin to experience pain in the jaw because those muscles are working so diligently to shift the jaw in order to get the teeth to come together.
This is actually a lot more common than people think, and although a majority of people have signs and symptoms of TMJ, that doesn’t necessarily always mean they’re aware of them.
“Chipped teeth, cracked fillings and tooth wear are all signs of issues, “Strober said. “Eighty percent of people show some sort of sign or symptom of a TMJ problem. Whether they know it or not is a different story.”
If severe, TMJ can cause posture problems and wear and/or breaking of the teeth. And if your body winds up needing to torque your jaw to the left, for example, this can also cause your next neck to tweak, which can then cause a series of descending problems throughout the body including neckaches, backaches and postural problems. All in all, it can be quite unpleasant and in some cases, debilitating.
The good news, however, is that relief can be achieved through neuromuscular dentistry.
Strober said that once the problem is identified, patients would first undergo a neuromuscular test in which a TENS machine delivers low-frequency electrical impulses to jaw muscles as a means of getting them fully relaxed. The process takes about an hour, and once those muscles are in that fully relaxed position, he records the position between your top and bottom teeth and has a special orthotic made.
“It will need to be worn for six weeks, 24-7. And we’ll see the patient three to four times in that time period to see if any adjustments need to be made,” he said. “After that time we’ll have a better sense as to whether the muscles can be retrained, and we’ll be able to see if the patient has any relief in their symptoms.”
If it’s helping and the patient wants to continue, the next step is to figure out how they want to get the teeth to stay in that position, be it through orthodontics, crowns or veneers, or through wearing an orthotic at night. Strober said there are several different avenues which can be taken in order to permanently position teeth in the way the muscles around the jaw would most like them to be.
If an orthotic is chosen, much like in the case of wearing braces, remedying the problem could take as little as three months for some or as long as 24 months for others. It all depends on how serious the problem is.
“What people should know is that there is help out there,” Strober said. “And when people experience these types of symptoms it can have a lot to do with the bite, so they should talk to their dentist to see if they can get relief through simple neuromuscular dentistry.”
For more information on Strober Dental, laser dentistry or to schedule an appointment, call (619) 299-5925 or click HERE.