A TMJ dentist should be an expert at neuromuscular dentistry. Neuromuscular dentistry focuses not only on the teeth, but also on the entire jaw system, including the muscles, nerves, bones, and, yes, the temporomandibular joints that are the source of TMJ.
Neuromuscular dentistry starts with the premise that your entire body is a unified, organic whole, and that different parts can’t be separated out, either for study or for treatment. Its second premise is that a healthy system is relaxed and uncompressed, allowing muscle strength to be reserved for productive action, and letting nerves function unimpinged, and blood and lymphatic flow to occur unimpeded.
It follows from this, first, that it’s desirable to find the position of maximum rest for your jaw muscles and to synchronize this with an open, uncompressed position of the jaw. And it also follows from this that dysfunction in the jaw can lead to dysfunction elsewhere in the body–and vice versa.
TMJ Dentists Can Identify Tension in the Jaw
TMJ was first discovered and named by an ear, nose, and throat doctor named James B. Costen in 1934. Although he called it Costen’s syndrome, he identified that malocclusion–teeth that didn’t fit together properly–was the cause and linked most of the TMJ symptoms we are familiar with today to the condition.
But what Costen lacked was the ability to objectively measure what he was seeing in the jaw. That’s something that we have only recently gained equipment to measure. TMJ dentists utilize a wider variety of tools for this purpose than other people who treat TMJ, which gives them a unique perspective that leads to specific treatment protocols.
All healthcare personnel will rely on ultrasound, MRI, and/or CT scans to get an image of the temporomandibular joint and its condition. But TMJ dentists utilize additional tools that tell us more about what is going on in the jaw system.
TMJ dentists know that the K-7 analysis system is crucial for gaining insight into TMJ. The K-7 uses three channels of analysis to determine the state of the jaw. Computerized mandibular scanning shows us the motion of the jaw joint in reproducible, objective detail, telling us when irregular motions might be linked to muscle imbalance or joint dysfunction. Electrosonography allows us to record and analyze jaw joint sounds objectively, without us disputing whether a particular sound is a grind or a scrape. Electromyography measures the tension in the jaw muscles. This helps us find the position of maximum rest for your jaw joints. And speaking of maximum rest, we use transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) to relax your jaw muscles so we can analyze the motions and position of your jaw independent of any bad habits or accommodations your jaw may have developed over time.
A Focus on Malocclusion
Since Costen’s 1934 discovery, we have learned that TMJ isn’t always due to malocclusion, but we understand that for many cases of TMJ malocclusion is a vital part of the picture. And only TMJ dentists are in a good position to identify and treat malocclusion. Normally, the best treatment for TMJ-related malocclusion is a removable bite splint that helps hold your jaw in a relaxed position.
How do you know if your TMJ is related to malocclusion? You might just feel it–many TMJ sufferers report their teeth don’t feel like they fit together right. You also might discover it by process of elimination–other treatments aren’t helping you.
TMJ related to malocclusion may flare up after eating a challenging meal like steak or popcorn. Bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding) is commonly associated with malocclusion, and if it tends to cause TMJ flare ups, then your TMJ might be related to malocclusion.
And if jaw motions alter your TMJ symptoms, you might benefit from consulting with a TMJ dentist. When you have a headache, try putting a pencil in your teeth. If it reduces–or worsens–your headache, malocclusion may play a role. The same goes for tinnitus–try moving your jaw to see if it changes the sound. If it does, then a TMJ dentist might be able to help.
Our dentists have extensive training and years of experience in the treatment of TMJ.
If you would like to learn how a Tulsa TMJ dentist could help you, please call (918) 528-3330 for an appointment at élan by Dr. Meghan Hodges.