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Neuromuscular dentistry is an expansive branch of dentistry that oversees a wide range of disorders and conditions. It primarily focuses on the temporomandibular joint, commonly referred to as TMJ. This includes issues with the jaw muscles and joints. The end goal of neuromuscular dentists is to provide patients with aligned bites and a more comfortable overall bodily alignment. 

What Is Neuromuscular Dentistry?

Neuromuscular dentistry is a branch of dentistry focused on the alignment (specifical realignment) of the jaw. This area of study helps provide relief to individuals suffering from temporomandibular disorders, malocclusion, and other symptoms such as headaches and migraines. This branch of dentistry provides comprehensive studies on jaw positioning, as well as various methods of technology to help patients with various conditions. The goal of neuromuscular dentistry is to correct a misalignment of the jaw at the temporomandibular joint and create a more uniform bite. This can be accomplished by using advanced technology, highly exact measurements, to record movements and muscle activity. 

Measurement Techniques

The branch of dentistry known as neuromuscular dentistry may use many different instruments and tools to decipher the range of movement in the jaw joint. This can help determine which treatment methods will be most effective and the extent of the damage. Some techniques that are used are listed below: 

  • Sonography: This allows the dentist to measure specific vibrations that exude from the joint during movement. For example, when the jaw moves up and down it sends off vibrations. This helps the dentist pinpoint where the issue lies. 
  • Electromyography: Electromyography measures muscle activity around the jaw joint when the patient engages in certain movements, such as opening and closing the jaw. This activity is measured by placing electrodes on the surface of the skin over the jaw. These electrodes send information to an instrument that the dentist reads. 
  • Jaw Tracking: This process allows the dentist to see the movements of the jaw in three dimensions. Jaw tracking is done by placing a device around a patient’s head to produce an image. 
  • TENS: This process involves stimulation of the jaw muscles to relieve pain associated with jaw spasms. This can help the dentist determine the rest position for the jaw. 

Malocclusion Overview 

Malocclusion in dentistry refers to a misalignment of the teeth or bite. Unfortunately, though malocclusion is a common issue, it can lead to potentially severe problems and oral complications. Occlusion refers to your bite, whereas a malocclusion refers to a “bad” bite. However, this term can also refer to overcrowding, a crossbite, and overbite, and an underbite. Malocclusions can hinder the teeth’s ability to function properly and affect your oral—and overall—health. 

Any deviation from an ideal occlusion is known as malocclusion. The variation may be minor or severe. An ideal occlusion refers to when your upper and lower teeth come together without any distrubistances, including crowding and spacing issues.  Teeth should not be rotated or twisted, and the bite should be even. The upper jaw and lower jaw should fit together easily. Proper alignment is essential for many reasons. 

What Causes Malocclusion?

Malocclusion can occur for many different reasons. The most common cause of malocclusion is not hereditary but rather Iatrogenic dentistry. This is where trauma has been caused by an orthodontist or dental activity/therapy. Patients typically come to see a Neuromuscular dentist because the orthodontist has misaligned the teeth, and the bite is not coming together properly. 

Some conditions lead to changes in the shape of the jaw. There are some habits that can change the jaw and teeth, as well. These include:

  • Trauma to the mouth or jaw 
  • Impacted teeth 
  • Mouth Breather
  • Cleft palate or cleft lip (rare)
  • Prolonged bottle use in early childhood (rare)

Symptoms of Malocclusion?

Symptoms of malocclusion present themselves in different ways. This can depend on how severe the misalignment is. Preventing misalignment is often difficult, especially if certain conditions arise. Keeping in contact with, and regularly visiting, a dentist can make you aware of any abnormalities as soon as possible. Early detection is the key to discovering what is wrong and getting treatment. 

What Is Neuromuscular Dentistry

Symptoms That Some Individuals May Experience Include:

  • Changes in facial appearance
  • Biting of the cheeks, lips, or tongue
  • Pain or discomfort when eating
  • Difficulty speaking

Classifying Malocclusion

If you regularly visit the dentist and they perform routine dental exams, your malocclusion will be identified as soon as it presents itself. Although further testing is sometimes needed to diagnose malocclusion, that is not typically the case and an X-ray can determine whether your teeth and jaw are properly aligned. Malocclusion is separated into three different classes, depending on severity. 

Class 1 

The first class of malocclusion is the most diagnosed type of malocclusion. This type refers to when the upper teeth overlap the bottom teeth. This overlap of the teeth is only slightly noticeable and actually quite common. Patients may or may not have other symptoms as a result of this misalignment. The top jaw may sit farther forward than the bottom jaw and cause this misalignment. 

Class 2 

The second class of malocclusion is more severe. This class is defined by there being a severe overbite. If a patient has class 2 malocclusion, their top jaw is severely over their bottom jaw and their teeth. 

Class 3

When the lower jaw juts severely forward, it is typically classified as class 3 malocclusion. This is also known as an underbite. The bottom teeth sit outside, or in front of, the top teeth. This condition is also known as prognathism. 

How Is Malocclusion Treated?

The symptoms that you are experiencing. There are many different ways to treat malocclusion, along with symptoms that result. You should get in touch with a professional skilled in neuromuscular dentistry. Your dentist can evaluate your own unique situation and determine the best treatment option for you and your needs. This plan of action will depend on the type of malocclusion you are dealing with, underlying issues, and how severe the issue is. Your Neuromuscular dentist may recommend treating the symptoms of stage one as pain management. They may suggest moving the teeth as stage 2 via other dental techniques.

What Is TMJ Disorder?

The temporomandibular joint is the joint that connects the jaw bone to your skull. You have one temporomandibular joint on each side of your jaw. When the joint experiences an injury or disorder, or becomes damaged, patients may experience TMJ disorder. Individuals may experience pain or localized swelling as a result of inflammation, among a host of other symptoms. There are many reasons that someone may experience TMJ disorder, including trauma to the jaw. However, many suspected causes of TMJ disorder are unknown and the disorder is still being studied. Thankfully, there are treatment options that can alleviate symptoms of TMJ.

What Causes TMJ Syndrome?

TMJ syndrome presents itself in many different ways, but the causes of TMJ are not well understood. The causes of TMJ syndrome are still being researched, as there may be multiple contributing factors. Some causes that have been linked to TMJ symptoms include misalignment of the jaw, trauma to the jaw, teeth grinding, and arthritis. This means that the muscles of your jaw and the jaw joint itself can play a role in the development of TMJ syndrome. 

In order to determine if what you are experiencing is TMJ, you need to speak with your dentist. There may be another underlying issue at play, such as arthritis, gum disease, or even tooth decay. Your dentist can inspect your jaw joints. This process involves recognizing any tenderness around your jaw, face, or neck, and listening for clicks or pops when you open your mouth. Your dentist can make sure that your jaw is functioning how it should be. 

What Are The Symptoms of TMJ Disorder?

TMJ syndrome can often lead to very painful and uncomfortable symptoms. You may not even know that these symptoms are because of a disorder in your jaw joint. Scheduling regular dental exams with a dentist who is skilled in malocclusion can help identify any issues before they present more serious problems. Some symptoms associated with TMJ disorder include

  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Pain and tenderness in the face or around the jaw 
  • Experiencing the jaw becoming stuck when it is opened or closed
  • Clicking or popping noises
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Swelling around the jaw
  • Headache and migraines
  • Facial pain, neck pain, and back pain
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Numbness of the fingertips

Do I Have TMJ?

TMJ syndrome can manifest itself in many ways. Those experiencing TMJ syndrome may not experience noticeable symptoms. To prevent other issues from stemming from TMJ syndrome, it is important to regularly receive dental exams. This helps potentially catch any issues before they lead to severe problems. If you experience any pain, headaches, or teeth grinding, it is important to schedule a visit with your dentist, who is trained in malocclusion and can provide a treatment option. 

Home Treatments for TMJ

While some symptoms of TMJ can be managed at home, the underlying issue may remain untreated and lead to further problems. If you are experiencing symptoms of TMJ disorder, it is important to contact a professional skilled in neuromuscular dentistry so that you can receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. 

Over-the-Counter Medications

There are anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications that can help certain individuals with symptoms of swelling and pain management. However, over-the-counter medication is not typically designed for long-term use. Long-term use of certain over-the-counter medications can lead to complications. 

Avoid Extreme Jaw Movements

Try to be more conscientious about how you move your jaw. Rigorous jaw movement, such as clenching or chewing gum, may lead to soreness later in the day. Minimizing these actions can help prevent some soreness and may help with swelling. 

How Is TMJ Diagnosed?

In order to determine whether a patient has TMJ, a professional specialized in neuromuscular dentistry may conduct a series of tests. Your dentist can provide you with an extensive evaluation, discussing prior medical history and the symptoms that have presented themselves. This physical exam consists of the dentist checking how your jaw joints feel and if there is any pain or tenderness. They may ask you to open and close your mouth, allowing them to listen for clicks or pops. Other tests may also be conducted, such as a CT Scan or a T-Scan, to complete the diagnosis. If you are a candidate, your Neuromuscular dentist may recommend a custom-fit bite splint as a treatment method. 

Who Is Qualified to Treat TMJ?

If you experience symptoms of TMJ, do not delay treatment. Consult with a professional dentist who is skilled in neuromuscular dentistry, with proven experience in the field. This branch of dentistry specializes in malocclusion and issues concerning the jaw. If TMJ affects other areas of the body, as it does in many cases, an experienced professional who is also knowledgeable in gnathology is generally preferred. Find a dentist and a practice that you feel comfortable with, and make sure they have the expertise you are looking for to ensure that you receive the highest quality of care. Your initial consultation should make you feel hopeful about your treatment plan and inform you of the effective procedures that can be utilized. 

Dr. Sid Solomon of the Center for Cosmetic, Implant, & Neuromuscular Dentistry believes that each and every patient deserves an individualized experience. Dr. Sid Solomon is experienced in both neuromuscular dentistry and gnathology. He and his team of specialized professionals will ensure that you experience a level of high-quality care unique to the Los Angeles area. They also proudly serve patients throughout Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Westlake Village, and the San Fernando Valley. Contact Dr. Sid Solomon today to schedule an initial consultation.