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TMJ… Tight Muscle Jaw Syndrome

Dr. Michael Bell

When people say, “I have TMJ”, most of us know they are referring to a problem with their jaw, but what is TMJ and how is it treated? TMJ is actually an abbreviation for a joint called the temporomandibular joint. The TMJ’s are the joints that connect the lower jaw (Mandible) to the skull. They are arguably the most important joints in the body because they are active in chewing, talking, swallowing, and any other motion involving the mouth and face and they provide a great deal of neurological information to the brain and body. TMD (Temporomandibular Dysfunction) or the more complete term CMD (Craniomandibular Dysfunction) is a problem affecting millions of people. TMD has been referred to as the “Great Imposter” because its symptoms mimic and parallel so many other diseases. The three main areas that we look at when evaluating chronic pain or jaw pain patients, are the bite, plane of occlusion, and the jaw joints. The bite is the way that the teeth come together, often called the occlusion. The plane of occlusion is the imaginary surface made by the teeth when they come together. If the occlusion or plane of occlusion is misaligned or off even a slight degree, it can cause a number of painful symptoms. The symptoms of CMD may include but are not limited to: 

• pain in the face, neck, or back

• migraine or generalized headaches

• eye problems

• sinus trouble

• hearing loss

• earaches

• clogging or ringing in the ears

• visual and motor in-coordination

• learning disability

• low energy level

• any pain or joint noises in jaw area

• difficulty swallowing

• dental distress

• bruxism

• tingling or numbness in the arms, hands or fingers

• a myriad of problems dealing with the spine and structure

The number of different symptoms related to TMJ makes diagnosing and treating the disease very difficult. Most patients have visited a number of other physicians to treat their symptoms but only consider seeing a dental TMJ specialist if they have specific mouth or jaw issues. Unfortunately for these patient, they are receiving temporary relief and simply suppressing symptoms. They will never find permanent relief of symptoms until they address the underlying causes.

When patients have Malocclusion or a “bad bite”, it may stem from malformation, degradation, or displacement of the TMJ’s. Misaligned bites will cause misalignments in other planes of the body, such as the spine, shoulders, hips, and ankles. The body’s effort to compensate for a misalignment in the cranium, causes structural imbalances elsewhere and puts a great deal of stress on the muscles of the face, head, neck and back. For this reason, many patients start with a chiropractor to straighten them out. The problem is that everything stems from the top and most chiropractors work from the neck down. Your chiropractic adjustments may hold for a short time, but until the top planes (eyes, ears, and jaws) are aligned, the bottom cannot stay put.

The first step to take is a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment. We begin by getting a detailed oral-facial-head-neck-pain-history and then a clinical history. We search for the underlying cause of the misalignment and not just the area of pain or symptom. There are also a number of computer tests and images that can be performed. These diagnostic tests give us a much fuller picture of underlying structural problems. This “full body or Holistic” approach tells us a great deal about how we may start treatment. Once the cause of misalignment is discovered, treatment plans can be specifically designed to meet the physiological, structural, and psychological needs of the patient. Sometimes treatment involves dental restorative work or orthopedic orthodontics. Other treatments may include cooperative treatment between the dentists and a chiropractic physician specially trained in TMJ therapy.

CMD is not a disorder that people develop over night and, unfortunately, by the time a patient seeks treatment, the structural system is already quite compromised.

CMD is a very complex problem that takes a well-trained clinician to recognize, diagnose, and treat.

If you or any one you know suffers from any of the above symptoms and has not found relief from a chiropractor, dentist, or medical doctor perhaps a TMJ specialist is the answer.

Dr. Michael Bell is a member of the Holistic Dental Association and has been practicing dentistry in Nev. since 1988. As a Holistic Dentist, Dr. Bell looks at “whole body” or structural health in relation to dental health. He also addresses issues of toxicity and chemical sensitivity. At the Bell Center, we strive to educate patients about the importance of dental health in relation to overall health. 702-256-7666 or www.lvtmjdentist.com


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