Jaw Joints! One of our most discussed and favorite topics here at Signature Dentistry!
Ok- by this point we sound like a broken record, but for those of you who are just tuning in to our newsletters, we focus on more than just your teeth. We also focus on more than just your mouth, but that's another topic for another month. This month we are going to focus on the jaw joints.
What are the jaw joints?
The temporomandibular joint, most commonly known as the TMJ, connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) in front of the ear. It is a ball-and-socket joint, similar to the hip and shoulder but more complicated. Certain facial muscles that control chewing are also attached to the lower jaw. When people say they "have TMJ", they are absolutely correct. You have TMJ, I have TMJ, we all have TMJ. When it is said "I have TMJ", people are usually referring to temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. It would also be correct to say "I am having pain/ discomfort/ clicking/ popping in my TMJ.
The TMJ is comprised of muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and bones. You have two TMJs, one on each side of your jaw.
The jawbone itself, controlled by the TMJ, has two movements: rotation or hinge action; which is opening and closing of the mouth, and gliding action; a movement that allows the mouth to open wider. The coordination of this action allows you to talk, chew, open, and close your mouth.
If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the joint and it's movement. When the joints move, they may produce sounds, such as clicking, grating, and/or popping. This is an indication that the disc may be in an abnormal position… time to call Dr. Wolfe! Remember when we talked about muscles back in March? Tight muscles are one of the main causes for disc dysfunction. When the muscles of the face/ head/ neck are too tense, they pull on the joint in an unnatural way, therefore making a sound.
Sometimes these sounds can be unharmful and don’t require any treatment, but other times there can be breakdown in the joint. The different types of splints we use in our office, bite splints, deprogrammers, and orthotics, depend on whether or not the patient has breakdown in the TMJ.
How Dawson helps TMD:
Many patients come to us for TMD. Most often, patients have tried multiple ways to resolve these issues, but they are still in pain or discomfort. (Dawson Academy skills to the rescue!) The jaw may lock in a wide open position (indicating that it is dislocated), or it may not open fully at all (yikes!) When there is an issue with the muscles that are connected to the TMJ, there can be a spasm, which hinders the jaw from opening. When we have a patient with tight muscles, Dr. Wolfe has the tools and knowledge to specifically treat this issue- not just dish out a generic bite splint. Dawson trained dentists can design bite splints to alleviate strain and tension from the muscles connected to the joint.
Breakdown and TMJ disorders should be treated carefully, otherwise the joint will continue to degenerate. Dr. Dawson’s teachings have taught Dr. Wolfe and other Dawson trained dentists how to diagnose, treat, and manage jaw joint problems. This type of training helps us determine which type of treatment a patient will need.