By: Dr. James White/ Your Dentist
Recently I did a consultation with a patient who was referred to my office from an orthodontist. The young lady was 29 years old with chief complaints of neck pain and pain located in front of her ears.
Upon my examination, I found many muscles that were sore with palpation. Frequent headaches were a major complaint, many of which occurred in the morning and then late afternoon. She attributed the headaches to stress.
I discovered that many muscles of her jaw, head and neck were in spasm. Judging by the wear of her teeth, clenching or grinding was probably causing the pain and not stress.
Tempromandibular joint disorder (also known as TMD and more familiarly as TMJ) affect as many as 10 million people. TMJ issues are a result of a chronically degenerative disease that may take years to develop.
The jaw joints break down in stages and, as with any other joint in the body, the sooner one seeks care, the better the prognosis to arrest or stabilize the degeneration. The mouth is the most used organ of our bodies, so it comes as no surprise that the jaw joint can be subject to damage - especially if the bite and the joint position are not in harmony.
There are many causes of joint dysfunction: tumors, bony growths, arthritis, to name a few. By far, the most frequent cause of jaw joint dysfunction is an improper bite.
Noises such as clicks, pops, or grating of the jaw joint are signals of damage within the joint, as well as muscles that are not working in harmony. When muscles are antagonistic to one another inflammation can occur with resulting pain (neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, pain to chew).
The following are some symptoms of TMJ at some level: headaches, worn, cracked, chipped or fractured teeth, breaking of fillings or crowns, pain around the ears/jaw joints, cold sensitivity in select teeth, jaw joint noises: clicking, popping, grating, head, neck, shoulder and even back pain
and/or decreased range of motion (mouth opening).
The lady in this example was in the early stages of disharmony of her bite and physiological jaw joint position. I was able to relieve her pain through bite splint therapy and then a correction to her bite.
The take away message is not to ignore jaw joint noises or frequent head and neck pain. Early treatment is the key.
It never gets better on its own. The noise may go away (sometimes for years) but the noise and symptoms will return, along with increasing teeth damage.
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