If you had ringing in your ears, dizziness and a headache, would you think to go to the dentist? Probably not, right? However, these are just a few of the vague symptoms that can indicate you have a problem with your jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) affects millions of Americans each year, appearing as varying degrees of symptoms, ranging from mild facial pain to headaches, earaches and dizziness, causing tens of millions of lost work days per year. Because the symptoms can creep up gradually, and often seem unrelated, the disorder can go undiagnosed, but can have a significant effect on your quality of life.
There are a number of risk factors that can lead to problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), including arthritis, injury, posture, and bruxism (habitual grinding of your teeth). Seeing your dentist is the first step in relieving the symptoms of TMD because he or she will be able to not only diagnose the problem, but also recommend options for treatment and the relief of symptoms. If simple lifestyle changes are not enough, you may be a candidate for the use of a night guard to help prevent the symptoms of TMJ disorder.
More About TMJ Disorder
The jaw consists of two joints on either side of your mouth, which work together to allow you to move your mouth up and down, side to side and back and forth. These joints, called temporomandibular joints (TMJ), connect the top part of your mouth (maxilla) to the lower jaw (mandible) and are cushioned by a soft disc, which acts as a shock absorber when you are chewing. When you have TMJ disorder, something has caused an irregularity or inflammation in the joint, which can then affect your ability to talk, chew, swallow, smile, or sometimes even breathe.
There are many theories as to the exact cause of TMJ disorder but it is most likely due to a combination of issues. Some things that can contribute to the problem include arthritis, autoimmune disease, stress, depression, injury, infection and habitual teeth grinding, especially at night. Just as varied as the causes of TMD, are the symptoms. People with the disorder complain of jaw pain and/or stiffness, limited jaw movement or locking and clicking of the jaw, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, earaches, fullness or ringing in the ears, dizziness, and visual problems. There are not a lot of tests to diagnosis TMD. In fact, it is usually diagnosed based on the history and symptoms you describe. Discussing your symptoms with your dentist will help you find a treatment plan that works. If simple changes in you lifestyle, such as stress reducing strategies, eating soft foods, applying ice and avoiding extreme jaw movements including wide yawning and gum chewing, do not work, you may be a candidate for a mouth guard.
What are Mouth Guards and How Do They Help?
A mouth guard, otherwise known as a bite guard or a stabilization splint, is made of hard acrylic resin. There are a number of different designs to fit over the upper or lower teeth, or both, to either prevent grinding or to correct the position of the jaw. They are effective, especially for people who suffer from grinding. It is recommended that mouth guards should only be used for a short period of time, and should be stopped before causing permanent changes to the bite. If at any time while using the guard you experience new or worsening pain, you should stop wearing it and notify your dentist.
While there are over-the-counter products available, every mouth is different. To make sure you have the device that is right for you and will not do you more harm than good, it is recommended that you only use a mouth guard that has been fitted by your dentist. It will be designed based on an impression your dentist will make of your mouth. Once it is made, your dentist will readjust it to fit into your mouth. You should follow your specific recommendations of when to wear the guard, be it day, night, or both. The following are examples of mouth guards that might be recommended to prevent the symptoms of TMJ disorder.
Stabilization or Flat Plane Splint
This mouth guard covers the entire surface of your teeth to reduce grinding and relax the jaw. However, it does not prevent clenching so it protects the enamel of the teeth but has the potential to worsen TMD symptoms.
Modified Hawley Splint
This guard is worn on the upper teeth. It creates contact between the upper jaw and the six lower front teeth only, thus preventing the back teeth from touching each other. This position makes grinding and clenching impossible, so it relieves the pressure on the TMJ.
Nociceptive Trigeminal Inhibition Tension Suppression System (NTI-tss)
This device works similarly to the modified Hawley splint, but only creates contact between the upper front teeth and bottom teeth. It will prevent clenching and grinding, but puts a lot of stress on just a few teeth. Also, because of its small size, there is risk that it will fall out during the night.
This guard works by repositioning the lower jaw (mandible) either forward or backward. While this may relieve the pressure on the jaw, it can also permanently change your bite. This is a device that should only be used for a short period of time and under close supervision by your dentist.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms associated with TMJ disorder and would like to learn more about possible treatment or if you have any other dental concerns, please call Hagerman Dental Care at (651) 646-2392, or request an appointment online. We are here to meet all of your dental needs.