Do you have any problems with opening and closing your jaw or with any unexplained head, neck or shoulder pain? If so, it may be the result of problems with your temporomandibular joint. Our dentist, Dr. Jeffrey Brown, can see you for TMJ and TMD treatments in Falls Church, Virginia. Call us at 703-821-1103 to schedule an appointment.
What Is TMJ/TMD?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, or the jaw joint. There are two TMJs, and they are located on each side of the face near the ears where the lower jawbone (mandible) joins the temporal bone of your skull. These joints operate simultaneously and allow all the mobility necessary for biting, chewing, swallowing, speaking, making facial expressions and even breathing.
TMD (Temporomandibular Dysfunction) is not one disorder, but refers to a group of conditions, often painful, that affect the jaw joint and associated muscles when the joints do not work together correctly. The most common cause of jaw-related problems is a bad (misaligned) bite.
How serious is TMD? As many as 60 million people in North America are affected by TMD. And a recent study revealed that 53% of people with TMD suffer from some level of depression, while 22% have symptoms of fatigue and/or insomnia due to disrupted sleep patterns. If this state of stress and fatigue continues over a long period of time, it can cause other body systems to break down. Untreated, TMD can have a demonstrative effect on your health and wellbeing.
What Are the Symptoms of TMD?
While the most common symptom of TMD is noise in the joint, pain in the jaw muscles and in the temporomandibular joint are also common symptoms of TMD. It is not uncommon for pain to also spread around your ears to your head, neck, shoulders and back. Common symptoms include:
- Clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint
- Being unable to open the mouth comfortably
- The jaw locks when you attempt to open your mouth
- A bite that feels uncomfortable or “off”
- Chronic headaches
- Dizziness and vision problems
- Facial pain
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Ringing in the ears, ear pain or decreased hearing
What Causes TMD?
Truth be known, while many factors are believed to contribute to TMD, the exact cause is unknown. And sometimes it is not possible to determine the exact cause of the symptoms. There is considerable evidence that the relationship between the upper and the lower teeth and the teeth to the TMJs, as well as supporting ligaments and muscles, is a significant factor. Other contributing factors may include:
- Trauma: The joint is damaged by a blow or other direct and indirect impact. Strains, sprains and injuries can lead to both pain and dysfunction.
- Improper Occlusion: When teeth do not fit together properly, it causes sustained microtrauma to other joints. If the condition is not addressed, over time, the body begins to compensate by involving muscles in other areas: the neck, throat and upper back.
- Muscle Hyperactivity: This goes hand-in-hand with internal jaw joint problems. Any condition that prevents the complex system of muscles, bones and joints from working together in harmony can contribute to TMD. Various ways this system can be disrupted include trauma, connective tissue disorders, arthritis or skeletal malformation.
- Posture: Poor posture places unnecessary wear and tear on all the joints including the jaw joints. Over time, consequences of postural neglect can be as damaging as an injury.
- Stress: Increased physical and emotional stress is another factor that impacts patients with TMD. Some patients unconsciously clench or grind their teeth (bruxism) in response to increased stress. Chronic clenching and bruxing creates strain on the TMJs and muscles which can intensify TMD problems.
How Do You Treat TMD?
When an occlusion problem or tissue damage to the head, neck and facial area is diagnosed, it is important to have an evaluation by a trained and qualified TMD dentist. Our office performs a full examination of the TMJs, head, neck and facial region, as well as X-rays and, occasionally, an MRI evaluation. We are able to objectively determine the pathological nature and extent of joint sounds and injuries to the TMJ area to arrive at a realistic prognosis. Frequently, a custom-made orthotic “splint” is prescribed for orthopedic and musculoskeletal stabilization.
Patients benefit from the non-surgical, conservative treatment our office provides. Once pain is controlled and the jaw joint is stabilized, the bite is balanced so the teeth, muscles and joints all work together without strain or pain. Initially, treatment addresses the pain by reducing inflammation and addressing the primary source of pain. Secondly, function is restored through the use of orthotic appliances and various physical therapies. Thirdly, the patient is stabilized, and we discuss what is necessary to maintain proper bite alignment. Very rarely, surgery is necessary to see improvement. Because problems associated with the jaw joints can be progressive, accurate and immediate diagnosis and treatment is crucial.
In addition, Dr. Brown is highly trained in ALF (Advanced Light Force) therapy. He has over 500 hours in ALF therapy training and has lectured around the world teaching ALF techniques with Dr. Nordstrom, the creator of the ALF appliances. The ALF appliances are thin, conservative appliances that can be used on the upper and lower arches. They hide behind the teeth, are removable and are basically invisible when being worn. This innovative treatment approach is used to address neurological, orthodontic and orthopedic issues, and the benefits are vast. Each appliance is unique to the patient and designed by the doctor to achieve specific goals relating to health, beauty and function. No ALF appliance is the same, and treatment is pain-free.
ALF Therapy has proven to be an extremely valuable tool for those patients who have:
- A need for facial guidance
- Palate expansion
- Narrow palates
- Breathing issues
- TMJ dysfunction
- Craniofacial pain
- Crowded/crooked teeth
- An avoidance for extractions
- Crossbite, overbite or underbite
- Cranial asymmetry
- Sleeping problems — snoring
- Recommendations for jaw surgery
Our ALF appliances are certified by Dr. Darick Nordstrom. He has personally instructed our ALF-certified technicians on the proper design and fabrication techniques to ensure that each technician is capable of creating authentic ALF appliances worthy of certification. The seal below is his stamp of approval.
- I have a general dentist. Can they help me, or do I need to see a specialist?
While both general dentists and orthodontists deal with the health of your teeth, orthodontists are also concerned with your joints and jaw alignment. Your general dentists will most likely be able to screen for this type of dysfunction, but it is recommended to see someone who practices TMJ disorder treatments.
- How long is treatment?
Treatment length is on a case-by-case basis since every person is unique and has different treatment goals. Typically, our treatment plans last one year. At each visit (every six weeks), measurements are taken to identify progress. After six and then twelve months in treatment, we will schedule a reevaluation and see how far you have progressed.
- How much does this treatment cost?
After the initial consultation and the MRI consultation (if needed), the dentist will provide you with a treatment plan that best suits your needs. Our treatment plan costs are varied, depending on which appliance or appliances being recommended, the treatment goals and the frequency of adjustment appointments. Before treatment starts, you will be given a complete treatment plan reflecting all your costs for the appliances and follow-up adjustment appointments. Our treatment coordinator will sit with you to help you figure out the amount of insurance reimbursement and create a financial payment option to assist you in starting the treatment.
- Why is not every dentist and orthodontist using the ALF appliance if the benefits are so great?
Per Dr. Nordstrom, people often fear what they do not understand. Regretfully, those who are not members of the ALF InterFACE professional community might be critical of its use. However, with the sheer number of patients and parents who have witnessed these transformations, our hope is that those who have little or no experience will consider learning more about ALF therapy and the opportunities that are provided through its use. The simple yet profound truth is that the body is interconnected in ways that traditional medicine and dentistry do not currently fully understand. ALF InterFACE providers actively seek that truth while others often seek comfort in traditional techniques without exploring the benefits of the advancements made possible through the development of the ALF family of appliances and therapies.
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If you would like to schedule an appointment with us to see if these treatments would be right for you, call Sleep & TMJ Therapy at 703-821-1103 and speak with a member of our team.