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.
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).
Causes of Jaw Pain
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 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 (TMJ) or temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
TMJ Treatment Before And After Photo
To see more before and after cases, visit our Smile Gallery.
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
What Causes TMJ Headaches?
Studies and patient reports have indicated that many people who experience the symptoms of TMJ disorder in the jaw and face also struggle with chronic headaches. There is no exact cause that has been determined to trigger TMJ headaches, but logic points to basic anatomy.
The muscles that serve the jaw and face wrap across the neck and head, as well. Additionally, nerves travel from the mouth to the cheeks and sides and top of the head. When the muscles around the temporomandibular joints are tensed, this can spread to the cheeks and other areas along the nerve and muscle path.
The School of Dental Medicine at the University of Buffalo conducted a study in which TMJ headaches were found to be frequently misdiagnosed as tension headaches. In the study, researchers discovered that 82 percent of the female participants had headaches coinciding with other TMJ symptoms. The same was true in 17 percent of the male participants. Research has also suggested that people who are prone to migraines may have severe headaches triggered by dysfunction in the TMJ.
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.
neuromuscular dentistry patient testimonial
What are TMJ Pain Relief options?
There are several remedies that can be used to reduce the discomfort of TMJ symptoms. These include:
- Applying ice or moist heat to the side of the cheek for a few minutes.
- Taking over-the-counter medication such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (ibuprofen).
- Resting the jaw. This strategy may look like avoiding chewing gum and minimizing jaw movements as much as possible.
- Eating softer foods that don’t require a lot of chewing is one way to rest the jaw.
- Learning relaxation techniques that reduce tension in the neck, shoulders, and jaw.
- Learning general relaxation techniques that reduce overall stress (stress can lead to bruxism and unconscious teeth-grinding).
- Practicing good posture; some postures increase tension on the neck and jaw.
- Avoiding positions like resting the chin on the hand.
TMJ treatment Options
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
A fixed orthotic is an 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
Splints or Night guards help 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
• Lifestyle changes
Temporomandibular joint syndrome is often a result of stress and anxiety, so we use stress reduction techniques to alleviate some of this.
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
Botox injections are a 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.
What can happen if TMJ goes untreated?
It is important to obtain adequate treatment for TMJ in order to avoid unpleasant symptoms that keep you from smiling, speaking, and eating normally. Also, depending on the dental structure involved in TMJ dysfunction, it is possible to suffer a loss in jawbone density.
Does TMJ get worse over time?
TMJ symptoms can worsen over time if treatment is not obtained. The severity of jaw, face, head, neck, and ear pain can disrupt the quality of living for many people. For this reason, we are pleased to offer patients the benefits of neuromuscular dentistry in the treatment of TMJ symptoms.
Can TMJ be cured permanently?
There does not seem to be a way to cure TMJ. However, treatments can significantly reduce or eliminate the symptoms related to joint dysfunction in the jaw. Often, patients who receive dental procedures to align the bite achieve dramatic improvements in their level of comfort.
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.