Loss of several teeth, or extensive wear, can seriously affect your temporomandibular joint (TMJ or jaw joint)–the sophisticated unit that hinges your lower jaw allowing you to eat, talk, laugh, and breathe properly. A marvel of muscle, bone, and engineering, the temporomandibular joint is the engine that drives all dental function, yet few people know of its importance. Unusual tooth wear and eventual tooth loss can alter the physics of the TM joint which, in turn, ages your appearance, modifies your speech, affects your ability to chew, and degrades your bite (the relationship between your upper and lower teeth). A symmetrical bite, one where all of your upper teeth mesh and interact correctly with your lower teeth, is critical to good dental health. A healthy bite ensures that jaw pressure is equally distributed across your whole dental set, as it should be. If the pressure is not equally distributed, and one side is carrying more than it should, this can seriously affect your eating and appearance. The temporomandibular joint may not function correctly on one side, causing pain and discomfort and an altered facial appearance. It can also lead to further improper tooth wear and loss
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD/TMJ)
Chronic facial pain — pain in or around the ear, tender jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, headaches and neck aches — may arise from many easily identifiable and treatable causes, including a sinus infection, tooth decay or gum disease. But sometimes the source is more elusive, and it may be TMD, a group of often painful disorders affecting the jaw and chewing muscles.
Common causes of TMD include:
- Trauma to the head or neck
- Oral habits such as clenching or grinding of the teeth
- “Bad” bite or missing teeth
- Malalignment of the upper and lower jawbones
Treatment of your temporomandibular joint disorder may range from conservative medical care to complex surgery. Your treatment may include short term care such as pain medication, muscle relaxation, bite plate or splint therapy, and, at times, stress reduction counseling.
A dental splint is a device that can be used to stabilize loose teeth or protect the teeth from damage in patients with TMJ, snoring, and sleep apnea. Splints can be worn all the time for a designated treatment period, or while sleeping for long-term care of snoring and sleep apnea.
If non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is joint damage, surgery may be indicated. Surgery can range from the least invasive, arthrocentesis, to arthroscopy or open joint surgery.
A longtime student of oral-facial anatomy and function, Dr. Dowsett can help identify problems and by working with an exceptional team of specialists—from orthodontists to physical therapists, help navigate you through this often difficult and frustrating condition.