What is Neuromuscular Dentistry?
In addition to general dentistry, Dr. Sullivan has extensive training and expertise in neuromuscular dentistry. This specialization of dentistry focuses on the alignment of the jaw. Neuromuscular dentistry is also concerned with how the teeth, jaw joints, and facial muscles work together when opening and closing your mouth. If there is an improper alignment or function, the patient can experience chronic pain that is difficult for a general dentist to diagnose. Beyond his general dentistry training, Dr. Sullivan has a neuromuscular dentistry fellowship from the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies.
Jaw Pain Causes
For a healthy, pain-free bite, three components must work together: the teeth, the masseter muscles, and the temporomandibular joints. Any of those three components can become misaligned, creating bite problems that can lead to jaw pain that radiates down the neck and into the shoulders.
What does neuromuscular dentistry help treat?
Whereas general dentistry looks at each tooth, Dr. Sullivan’s neuromuscular dentistry training allows him to see the teeth, jaw, head, and neck as a whole. With this approach, he can customize a treatment plan that corrects issues such as unusual tooth wear, painful jaw symptoms, overbites, or temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ).
Neuromuscular patient testimonial
What is temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)?
The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. This joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. When there is an inherent misalignment of the jaw or teeth, or if there has been an injury, this can lead to a localized pain disorder called temporomandibular joint syndrome or disorder (TMJ).
These are the signs that you may have alignment problems causing TMJ:
- Pain or tenderness in the jaw
- Pain in one or both of the temporomandibular joints
- Aching pain in and around your ear
- Consistent headaches
- Ear ringing
- Difficulty chewing or pain when chewing
- Clicking or popping when chewing
- Aching facial pain
- Locking of the joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth
Migraine Headaches – Recurring headaches are a side effect of TMJ. You can experience tension headaches as well as migraines on a regular basis. Treating TMJ can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. Some people see them virtually go away.
What causes TMJ?
The exact causes of TMJ are not completely understood, as there are multiple factors that can lead to the muscle tightness and dysfunction that is the temporomandibular joint syndrome. Still, these are the typical causes of TMJ:
- Misalignment of the teeth and/or the jaw
- Trauma to the teeth and/or jaw
- Long-term teeth grinding
- Poor posture in the neck and upper back
- Clenching of the teeth
- Stress or anxiety
Neuromuscular Before and After Photo
To see more before and after cases, visit our Smile Gallery.
When Dr. Sullivan is addressing symptoms of TMJ, the first step is to look for jaw alignment problems. He will begin with a muscle and joint palpation where he watches and feels for function in the different facial muscles and the TMJs as you open and close your mouth. Pain or tenderness is an indicator of misalignment or overuse of the muscles. Catches, locks, clicks, and pops when moving the jaw are also signs of TMJ issues.
Beyond these physical tests, Dr. Sullivan may order:
- Full-face x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs — These will show the position of the jaw and TMJs.
- Electromyography (EMG) — An EMG uses the electricity generated by the jaw muscles to measure both muscle and nerve function.
- Sonography — Sound waves can help determine if the jaw is misaligned. We also listen for abnormal sounds when the jaw is used.
- Computerized imaging of the jaw — The resting position of the jaw is measured to identify misalignment.
Dr. Sullivan employs a variety of treatments, from lifestyle changes to cosmetic dentistry options such as dental implants. Here’s a partial list of his TMJ treatments:
- Fixed Orthotic– Almost invisible material that is worn in the mouth 24 hours a day. The patient eats and sleeps with this orthotic and it does not come out. This orthotic allows the muscles of the jaw to acclimate to the new bite position. During this treatment, most of the TMJ symptoms will be eliminated. We also offer this treatment as a removable option.
- Splints or night guards — To put the jaw in the correct position and to lessen the patient’s ability to grind his or her teeth, we fabricate plastic mouthpieces that fit over the upper and lower teeth. These are usually worn at night.
- Cosmetic dentistry — To correct alignment, Dr. Sullivan can replace missing teeth with dental implants or bridges, crown overly worn teeth, or move the teeth with orthodontics.
- Lifestyle changes — Temporomandibular joint syndrome is often a result of stress and anxiety, so we use stress reduction techniques to alleviate some of this.
- Exercises — Tightening the jaw muscles and clenching the teeth is a common cause of TMJ problems. We have various jaw exercises that stimulate and relax the jaw muscles.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation — Small electrical pulses are delivered to the jaw muscles through a small wand. These pulses stimulate the nerves, encouraging the muscles to relax and the jaw to fall into alignment.
- Botox injections — This muscle relaxer known for its ability to block the muscles that create wrinkles on the upper part of the face can be very effective in relaxing the overused muscles that lead to TMJ pain.
Schedule a consultation
If you have been experiencing jaw pain, frequent headaches, or any of the other symptoms of TMJ listed above, you can benefit from the neuromuscular dentistry expertise of Dr. Sullivan. Call us at 225-635-4422 to schedule a consultation, so that we can put the chronic pain behind you.