People don’t often think to consult their dentist for treatment of migraines and other chronic headaches, neck aches and facial pain, but they should.
These debilitating symptoms often are the result of temporomandibular joint disorder- commonly referred to as TMJ- a jaw alignment and bite disorder that can be treated through neuromuscular dentistry.
The TMJ is the ball-and-socket joint on each side of the head where the lower jawbone joins the temporal bone of the skull, according to mayoclinic.com/health/tmj-disorders/DS00355
The lower jaw has rounded ends that glide in and out of the joint socket when talking, chewing or yawning.
Between five percent and 15 percent of people in the United States experience pain associated with TMJ disorders, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health . Women are more likely than men to develop TMJ disorders.
In most cases, pain and discomfort associated with TMJ disorders can be treated through self-managed care or non-surgical treatments, said Dr. Mindy Munowitz, a dentist who specializes in neuromuscular and cosmetic dentistry in Cincinnati, Ohio. However, more severe cases may require further dental or surgical treatment.
While traditional dentistry evaluates primarily the teeth, bones and gums, neuromuscular dentistry works with the hard tissues and the soft tissues, muscles and nerves, according to leadingdentists.com/what_is_neuromuscular/what_is_neuromuscular_dent.html the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies Web site.
Typically, the treatment follows three steps. The first is to relieve the pain of muscle spasms and the overall discomfort of TMJ symptoms.
“Patients suffering from TMJ are looking for relief of the symptoms,” Munowitz said. “We are successful in doing this through non-surgical neuromuscular dentistry methods.”
The best way to do this is by using technology called Ultra Low Frequency Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation, or ULF-TENS. Simply put, this stimulation emits pulses to gently massage the jaw muscles and relax them. ULF-TENS relieves the pain by stimulating the body’s production of endorphins, the body’s natural anesthetic.
The next step is to stabilize the patient’s bite. This is accomplished using an orthotic, which is worn over the teeth.
“The orthotic allows me to make easy adjustments to the plastic without adjusting the teeth until the bite is stabilized,” Munowitz said.