Is TMJ Disorder A Real Thing?

added on: April 17, 2024

Several weeks ago, I watched a news clip on the severe over-treatment of TMJ disorders. It included interviews of several female patients who had endured horrific surgeries that were ineffective, and even disfiguring.

As a neuromuscular dentist, this was frightening to watch for me, and sad. While over the years, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders have occasionally caused controversial debates. Are they truly a legitimate problem? Yet, for an estimated over one-third of the adult population in the U.S. who suffer with TMD related symptoms (see below), it is a problem that is not only real, it can be debilitating.

Unfortunately, the number of those suffering has nearly doubled from those pre-Covid. The National Institutes of Health shares, in a report following the pandemic:
“The rate of TMDs (worsening of previous TMDs or new onset) during the COVID-19 infection period among participants was 41.9%.”

Stress is a fact of life for most adults. Yet, during the pandemic and for the years after, stress seems to have grown. Unfortunately, when you add the stresses of daily life to jaw joints that are inflamed, the realities of TMJ disorder can have a negative presence in one’s quality of life.

One of the reasons I pursued advanced training (over 300 hours) in neuromuscular dentistry was because of the far reaching associations involving the bite misalignment. This includes the size of the tongue, shape of the palate, connecting muscles and tissues, and associated joints.

Taking these factors into account, neuromuscular dentistry understands the intricate way the jaw joints interact. And, these joints are complex structures. When we open our mouths, the rounded ends of the lower jaw, (condyles) rotate within the joint sockets. Like most bones in the body, the condyles rely on a disc between it and the temporal bone to keep the movement fluid and absorb shock. Although an accident or injury can disrupt the ease of motion in the jaw joints, a “bad bite” is often to blame.

TMJ disorders occur, typically, when the alignment of the bite – the proper fit of upper teeth interacting with lower teeth – aren’t working together. Upper and lower teeth should work harmoniously, whether in chewing, speaking or even while sleeping. When misalignment exists, stress or strain can extend out to the jaw joints, which leads to inflammation.

As the inflammation worsens, symptoms can emerge. These include:
• Jaw soreness, especially upon waking from sleep
• Frequent headaches or migraines
• Pain in the face, shoulder, neck, or behind the eyes
• Earaches or ringing in ears
• Jaw clicking or popping
• Difficulty opening the mouth fully 
• Clenching or grinding of teeth during sleep
• Dizziness
• Sensitive teeth
• Numbness or tingling in the fingers
• Shifting or loosening of teeth

As a neuromuscular dentist, many patients come to our Shelby Township dental office because of the miserable symptoms they suspect may be related to their jaw joints. Many wake up with headaches, or realize they are clenching their teeth during sleep. Many have aching jaw joints or hear a popping or grinding sound in their jaw joints. Others have broken, worn or chipped teeth.

It’s not unusual for patients, however, to be surprised to learn the problem has originated in their bite. Many have seen a dentist who “checked” their bite and were told it was fine. These bite checks are often conducted with an “articulating” paper (something along the lines of carbon paper). The dentist places it between upper and lower teeth and has the patient bite together and then slide their teeth back and forth.

This carbon paper leaves black marks on teeth to show “contact points.” If a tooth or teeth are not “hitting” correctly in unison with others above (or below), the dentist may shave spots down to where contact is less abrupt (for the time being).

In neuromuscular dentistry, however, we know these problems typically go far deeper than how a tooth’s points touch another during this “testing” method. When TMJ problems exist, adjusting the tip of a tooth or repairing broken teeth will not solve long-standing problems.

A neuromuscular dentist knows the disparity of the bite must be corrected or the repairs to teeth will be temporary and ongoing. I also know that radical surgeries or harsh medication therapies can be avoided.

Relief begins with proper diagnosis to pinpoint the disparity, or for some, even rule out the jaw joints as the source of their problems. This is why our Macomb County dental office has incorporated some of the most advanced diagnostic technology available. Our patients have the advantages of skilled neuromuscular dentistry and the technology that facilitates precision diagnosis and conservative treatment plans.

In addition to Cone Beam imaging, we utilize Tek-Scan computerized technology to zero in on specific factors contributing to bite problems. “T-Scan” is painless, fast and accurate in its ability to help minimize treatment time.

If you are experiencing symptoms you feel may be signs of TMJ disorder, consider scheduling a free consultation by calling 586-739-2155 or tap here to schedule online. During this private time together, I’ll answer your questions and explain the treatment that may be best for your needs.

You are also invited to watch a brief video on TMJ disorder care in our office: DrBarbatTMJ as well as our extensive technology: DrBarbatTechnology

And, I hope you’ll take a few minutes for a quick tour of our Macomb County dental office at: DrBarbatOfficeTour



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Dr. Ban R. Barbat

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