What is Neuromuscular Dentistry?
Neuromuscular dentistry is a specialized area of dentistry focused on the alignment of the jaw. A neuromuscular dentist is concerned with the health of the teeth and gums, but also with how the teeth, jaw joints, and facial muscles work together to open and close your mouth. By considering the position of the teeth and how they relate to the function of the joints and muscles, the neuromuscular dentist seeks to balance the relationship for patients who are experiencing chronic pain or reduced function.
What does neuromuscular dentistry treat?
There are three components to a balanced bite: the teeth, the muscles, and the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). In a balanced bite, all three components work together effectively and efficiently. When one or more of the three causes the jaw to become misaligned, the corresponding problems with the patient’s bite can lead to jaw pain that also radiates down the neck and into the shoulders.
Neuromuscular dentistry looks beyond individual teeth, instead viewing the teeth, jaw, head, and neck together as a unit. By looking beyond solely the jaw, Drs. Gill and Kenson can customize a treatment plan that corrects overbites, unusual tooth wear, painful jaw symptoms, or disorders such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
How Do You Diagnose TMD?
When examining patients for jaw alignment problems, Drs. Gill and Kenson begin with a muscle and joint palpation. As you open and close your mouth, and clench your teeth, they feel for function in the different facial muscles and the TMJs. Pain or tenderness is an indicator of misalignment or of muscles being overworked. Catches, locks, clicks, and pops when moving the jaw are also typical signs of alignment problems.
Other more involved tests can be used:
- Full-face x-rays, MRIs, or CT scans — These may be used to view the position of the jaw and temporomandibular joints.
- Sonography – Sound waves are used to determine whether there are any problems with jaw alignment. We also listen for any abnormal sounds emanating from the jaw.
- Electromyography (EMG) – This method uses the electricity generated by jaw muscles to measure both muscle and nerve function. It can help us see when there is a reaction (such as pain) to movement.
- Computerized test equipment — This is used to measure the correct resting position of the jaw, identifying misalignment problems.
Causes of TMJ
Pinpointing the exact causes of a patient’s TMJ disorder can be challenging. Causes can be related to problems with the bite, but also from subtle issues such as stress or even posture. Injury to the jaw, joints, or related muscles can also lead to TMJ. There may also be a possible genetic predisposition. Here are some causes:
- Grinding or clenching the teeth
- Movement of the soft cushion or disc between the ball and socket of the joint
- Arthritis in the joint
- Stress, which can cause a person to tighten facial and jaws muscles or clench the teeth
Symptoms of TMJ Disorder
Symptoms of TMJ disorder include:
- Pain or tenderness in your face, jaw joint area, neck, and shoulders, or in and around the ears when you chew or otherwise open your mouth
- Jaws that get “stuck” or “lock” either open or closed
- Clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when you chew or simply open or close your mouth
- Consistent headaches
- Regular jaw stiffness
- Ear ringing
- Unintentional teeth grinding
- Tori or exostoses, which are excessive deposits of bone in the mouth
- Tingling fingertips
- A feeling that your teeth do not fit together properly
These are some of the methods we use when treating TMD:
- Cosmetic Dentistry – We replace missing teeth with implants or bridges, crown worn teeth, move the teeth with Invisalign, whatever is necessary to get your bite into proper alignment.
- Splints, night guards, or orthotics — We fabricate plastic mouthpieces that fit over your upper and lower teeth so they can’t touch. This serves two purposes: mouthpieces lessen the effects of clenching and grinding, and they put the teeth in a more correct position.
- Exercises – Jaw problems can often be attributed to stress, which causes people to tighten their jaw muscles. Jaw exercises are assigned that will stimulate and relax the jaw muscles.
- Lifestyle – Lifestyle changes such as stress reduction techniques or personal care solutions can reduce jaw pressure and pain.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation – Small electrical pulses are delivered to the jaw muscles through a small wand. These pulses stimulate the nerves, encouraging muscles to relax and the jaw to align.
Schedule a Consultation
To schedule a consultation with Dr. Gill and Dr. Kenson to see if Neuromuscular Dentistry is right for you, call (303) 277-9600 today!