This is probably the most controversial field in dentistry, so the following is based on our training and experience.
TMJ Disorders Vary in Symptom and Severity
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders can come in all different shapes and form. Some patients have excruciating headaches and even migraines that are related to the jaw joint. Some have limited opening or have had their jaw lock open or shut, clicking, popping or grinding noises come out of their jaw joints, pain in their jaw joints or muscles, ringing, buzzing, hissing, pain in the ears, excessive ear wax, loss of hearing and the ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist cannot figure out why.
Some patients are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic neck and shoulder pain, while other patients have no pain at all in the face but have lower back pain and shoulder pain. All of these symptoms by themselves or in combination could indicate that you have a jaw joint TMJ issue.
Many of the patients we see are put on anti-depression medication, because when they go see their doctor about their headaches and pain, the doctor can’t find anything wrong and assumes it’s all in their head. The funny thing is that they are right. It is in their head, more specifically the TMJ jaw joints.
The other funny thing is that when we start treating patients with chronic pain and the pain starts to go away, they don’t feel depressed anymore and they stop taking their anti-depression medication. Pain can do many things to people, and one of them is put them in a foul mood all the time. Otherwise they just feel depressed because they are in pain all the time, and what’s worse is that nobody believes them.
What we find is often the case is that our patients have just been misdiagnosed and the TMJ jaw joint issue is just never even looked at or properly evaluated.
TMD – Not a Focus for Many Physicians
Now before everyone goes huffy puffy and starts accusing all their doctors of misdiagnosing their TMJ – stop. Don’t blame the physicians or other dentists for misdiagnosing something they were not adequately taught to do.
Ask a physician how many hours of TMD training they received in school. It would be very surprising if they even spent an afternoon on this subject, considering how much information they have to learn.
Ask the average dentist how much training they received in TMD. In school dental students do not receive much training on the subject, and are told it was not treatable and most of the time goes away within 2 years. The truth of the matter is most dentists don’t have much experience with how to treat TMD predictably, as the guidelines and training received were inadequate and the message received was that it wasn’t treatable anyway.
This is why very few dentists actually can properly assess TMD. Even the top speakers in dentistry don’t understand TMD. Very few dental lecturers and dentists understand TMD enough to speak effectively about the subject, let alone treat the problem predictably.
TMD at Bradford Family Dentistry
We offer full TMD/TMJ treatment, orthodontics and sleep dentistry (which are all related) and are consistently learning about the subject, in order to offer some patients the relief they have been searching for, for years.
Some dentists today clain that TMD does not exist, so you may need to look around to find one who can test, diagnose and treat you for it. In our experience, there are a lot more jaw-related problems in the general population than we are aware of.
Another misconception is that if you have jaw problems you need surgery. This is also not true and oftentimes the surgery can make you worse. Some surgeries can help, but most are unpredictable and can take a bad problem and make it much worse.
Our treatment is typically non-surgical. Once we establish proper jaw relations, if surgery is still needed (which is rare), the surgery becomes much more predictable.
We treat TMJ jaw joint problems in really 2 main categories: 1) those with pain symptoms (like headaches, ear problems and other facial pain) and 2) preventive (like clicking but no pain). In an ideal world, we think everyone deserves healthy jaw joints and to be free of jaw-related pain and symptom. We think this is attainable on most people without surgery.
The treatment itself is simple in theory, harder in application. It involves finding a harmonious relationship between the upper and lower jaws and holding this position until the joints and muscles have a chance to heal. This position is designed to decompress the jaw joints and improve function. This can be done reversibly, with removable appliances called orthotics, or through orthodontic treatment geared at aligning the jaws and aligning the teeth to this position. It can also be done through dental materials that may be necessary depending on the situation (for example, if you had no teeth or were missing teeth).
“My visit with Dr. Chai was because of neck, jaw and back pain. I would say the improvement since treatment began is 100%. Activities I am now able to do include yard work, picking up tree limbs and mowing the lawn. My advice for people considering jaw joint treatment is to try it – it works.”
– Donna L.
Any time we evaluate your jaws, we also evaluate your airway to see if there is any obstruction that can affect breathing. This is because if you cannot breathe properly and get a restful sleep, you will not heal properly either. Airway issues can contribute to TMD because if you cannot breathe properly, you will clench and grind more, therefore aggravating your jaw joints. This is often overlooked.
Most of our TMD patients whose chief complaint is headaches show great improvement within a few weeks of treatment, and most of these patients tell me they don’t get headaches anymore. The ones who still get headaches almost always have other components outside the jaw contributing to the problem, like the airway we mentioned, neck injuries, and foot and hip problems. We can help evaluate and refer you to the appropriate care for areas outside the jaw joint.
The good news is just like anything else – if treated early, the problem is easier to address and more predictably treated. This is why we like treating kids early for orthodontics, as a lot of TMD issues can be addressed early and oftentimes eliminated before symptoms arise and serious damage is done. This is also why we like to treat adults younger if possible, before permanent damage is done to the joint. The longer treatment is delayed, the higher the chance that chronic pain sets in and treatment becomes more involved and often more difficult.
If you think you have TMJ jaw joint symptoms, treat it early. Early treatment will prevent years of grief and pain, and will save you money in the long term as well. If you already have severe TMD, you can still be helped.
We’ve treated people who have had chronic pain and headaches for many years with great success, and the quality of life improvement is incredible. You deserve to enjoy life, and if it is your TMD-related pain that is causing you not to, get it treated. For a free consultation, call 1-877-283-0497.