From headaches to muscle aches and vertigo to ear pain, the myriad of debilitating symptoms caused by TMJ can affect anyone and everyone.
TMJ disorder (also known as TMD) stands for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. The temporomandibular joints allow the jaw to open, close, and move from side to side. Between speaking, chewing and regular daily movement, these joints are also used in supporting head posture, shoulder tension and strength, and in balance. They are in constant use, so you can imagine that they undergo a lot of wear and tear. Even the slightest imbalance in our jaw joints can cause TMJ and its painful symptoms to surface.
No part of our body exists on its own. No one ever comes into my office with just a head. There is always a body attached to it. This means that every functional body system is, in some way, connected to the rest, so an imbalance in one, can contribute to an imbalance and compensation in another. It’s important for all health providers to have an understanding of how TMJ affects the rest of the body so we can properly diagnose and treat a bite imbalance with confidence and precision.
In my 15 years as a TMJ treatment provider in Calgary, I’ve learnt that:
Having a fundamental understanding of how the teeth, joints and muscles function and interact is a requirement to reduce structural, muscular, neural and respiratory stress in TMJ patients. By doing this we can decrease pain and improve overall function.
This extended knowledge helps instill a greater respect for the impact that occlusion has on our entire body (not only on our jaw joints), which opens the door for exploration of more effective TMJ disorder treatment options.
Read on to learn more about the causes of TMJ disorder, TMJ treatments we offer at our Calgary dentist office, and how we coordinate our efforts with other healthcare providers to ensure proper and effective treatment and healing.
Dr. Curtis Westersund, DMD
Dentist in Downtown Calgary, Alberta
What can cause TMJ disorder?
The way your teeth bite and function together is known as occlusion. Occlusion has a strong relation to your balance and posture, which can directly affect the entirety of your body. Malocclusion is when the upper and lower teeth deviate from the ideal position, causing an improper bite. This might be, and often is, the culprit of your headaches, dizziness, teeth grinding, or any other symptoms of TMJ.
What can cause a “malocclusion”? There are 3 main problems we look at in our exams:
- The bite is imbalanced. This can be from development, dental treatments, orthodontic therapy, or just wear and tear.
- The bite is misplaced. This means that the way the upper and lower jaw developed from childhood was not ideal. This is often a factor of mouth-breathing vs. breathing through your nose. If you do not breathe through your nose, your upper jaw fails to develop properly and a malocclusion is formed
- The bite is being influenced. This means that the bite is being altered by your head and neck posture, the airway you use to breathe, or even nutrition.
TMJ disorder may also be caused by the TMJs damage from a blow or impact (such as a whiplash injury), which can contribute to a misaligned bite or malocclusion.
Key TMJ Symptoms to look out for
A misalignment in your bite or your TMJs can contribute to imbalances in the rest of your body, causing these other body parts to compensate for the misalignments in detrimental ways.
From your teeth to your toes, this compensation by your body’s muscle activity and postural alignment isn’t limited to your jaw and teeth.
The symptoms of each person with TMJ can differ from case to case. After all, everyone’s body is unique. Despite this, a pattern of common symptoms has emerged among patients. Some of the most frequent clinical signs and symptoms associated with muscle strain and body misalignment include:
- Headaches / Migraines
- Cervical / Neck problems
- Forward head posturing
- Hip / Lower back pain
- Clenching / Bruxing of the teeth
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive and sore teeth
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
- Ringing in the ears
- Ear congestion / Fullness in the ears
- Vertigo / Dizziness
- Clicking / Popping in the jaw joints
- Limited opening of the mouth
- Tingling in the fingertips
- Facial pain /Jaw pain
- Worn / Chipping teeth
By making sure you get the right diagnosis and the right treatment for your TMJ disorder, you can improve your mental and physical function, and get back on track for a pain-free life. In our dental office located in downtown Calgary, we use an “alignment first” approach to treating TMD. This means no surgery is required to relieve your TMJ pain.
As part of this approach, we recommend that our TMJ treatment options are coupled with collaborative Health Caretherapy from a variety of caregivers. This can aid in addressing any problems with your bite, which is ultimately the root of many TMJ symptoms. No part of the body works in isolation, so a coordinated effort is the best way to solve your TMJ as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It all starts with a Functional Rebalance
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A Functional Rebalance is used to reduce facial and postural muscle tension, aiming to restore the movements of the head and neck.
To start, real time biometric measurements of your bite are taken to determine bite-force distribution, bite timing, and the exact contact area of the teeth. From this point, the surfaces of the teeth can be shaped and adjusted, and any worn teeth can be rebuilt.
To help guide us in the shape and balance your teeth we use ‘T-Scan’, a biometric occlusal scanning system which allows for initial strain reduction and helps to speed up the following therapy.
Myo-Rebalance with a TMJ dental orthotic
A TMJ orthotic, also known as a TMJ dental appliance, is used to relieve pain in your jaw, face, head and neck by relieving any tension. The TMJ orthotic we use is called ‘The Natural Fit Orthotic™’ and aims to rebalance the upper and lower jaw to improve your posture.
The bite of your natural teeth can be balanced through a Functional Rebalance, but a dental orthotic will correct the function of the lower and upper jaws themselves. A TMJ dental appliance is a simple, non-surgical method of balancing jaw function.
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The Natural Fit Orthotic™ covers the teeth of the lower jaw and mimics the shape and color of your natural teeth.
This allows for a….
- balanced bite
- calm functional jaw movements
- regular aesthetic appearance
- normal speech and eating
The TMJ dental appliance is worn 24/7, and is easily removable for eating and cleaning during the healing phase of the TMJ treatment.
Upper cervical analysis and re-alignment (NUCCA Chiropractic Therapy)
The way our skull balances on our neck is directly affected by malocclusions. This is why an upper cervical (upper neck) alignment is a key portion of our protocol for treating chronic jaw and neck pain.
There are no abrupt movements involved in a NUCCA adjustment because the neck never leaves a neutral position. The NUCCA chiropractor applies a subtle vibrating pressure that takes 3-5 seconds to make small corrections to the position of the head and the neck.
The patient feels only a light pressure where the hand meets the neck. The intensity of the NUCCA adjustment is similar to having your pulse taken. In fact, most patients barely feel the adjustment at all!
Postural analysis with hip-back-shoulder realignment
TMJ disorder has a global effect on the body. Stress and strain in the head and neck can lead to improper hip rotation, angulation, and tipping. This causes the bones and muscles of the back and shoulders to imbalance. Your body’s interconnection means that a seemingly small issue can landslide into larger problems.
For this reason, treating a misaligned bite without first assessing any postural imbalances could limit the improvement of your symptoms. Many health care providers are involved in this type of therapy, and we coordinate with them on a case-by-case basis to achieve the best results for our patients.
Orthodontic therapy may be required before or after Myo-Balanced Dental Orthotic Therapy to balance tooth positions and increase the volume of the mouth. Orthodontic therapy may also be required prior to TMD Therapy to eliminate the need for a dental orthotic.
Find the right Calgary TMJ treatment for you
TMJ disorder can be debilitating, and at times even disabling. Treating chronic pain requires time, patience, and the correct care, so it’s important to do lots of research and ask your doctor any questions that come to mind.
After a thorough consultation and exam we can outline the possible options to best treat your TMD. With our diagnostic tools, we’ll be able to create a treatment plan that fits your unique treatment needs.
If you suspect you have a TMJ disorder and would like to know more about our TMJ treatments, please don’t hesitate to schedule an online meet and greet with Dr. Curtis Westersund.