From John Sartorio, DMD, serving the Pittsburgh area.
Discussion and examination take place at the initial consultation appointment when the patient reports time of onset, duration and intensity of pain in the affected area. The examination explores the pattern of jaw movement to detect sounds and tenderness to gentle pressure.
Further diagnostic testing is indicated the presence of jaw joint dysfunction is suspected. Further testing is designed to properly diagnose the patient's problem and to try to reduce the signs and symptoms of the dysfunction. To determine if the lower jaw and the disc of the TM joints are in the correct position, the following diagnostic tests are used:
Medical and Dental History as well as an examination of the teeth and the dental arches
TMJ Health Questionnaire
Patients are asked questions regarding possible TM dysfunction symptoms. If the patient answers "yes" to any of the symptoms and "yes" to clenching and bruxing, then further tests are required to confirm the presence of a jaw joint problem (TM disorder).
Range of Motion
Patients are checked for how wide they can open, slide left and right, move the jaw forward, and whether or not there is a deviation or deflection of the jaw upon opening. If there is a problem achieving normal range of motion, there is usually a structural problem within the joint.
Excessive muscle contractions and trigger points indicate a problem with the chewing muscles of mastication. This causes the muscles of the head and neck to be sore when pressed by the dentist. This usually means that the lower jaw is not in the correct position.
TMJ x-rays are important to see if the condyles (top of the lower jaw bone) are too far back where they would be impinging on the nerves and blood vessels at the back of the socket where the jaw bone fits into the skull. In cases where the lower jaw is too far back, dentists find a significant reduction in the signs and symptoms of TM disorders when the jaw is repositioned forward with a splint or a functional orthopedic appliance.
Since the teeth, jaw joints and muscles can all be involved, treatment for this condition varies. Typically, treatment will involve several phases. The first goal is to relieve the muscle spasm and pain as well as establish normal range of motion of the lower jaw. Then, your dentist must correct the way the teeth fit together. Often a temporary device known as an orthotic or splint is worn over the teeth until the bite is stabilized. Permanent correction may involve selective reshaping of the teeth, building crowns on the teeth, orthodontics or a permanent appliance to cover the teeth. If the jaw joint itself is damaged, it must be specifically treated. Although infrequent, surgery is sometimes required to correct a damaged joint. Ultimately, your dentist will stabilize your bite so that the teeth, muscles and joints all work together without strain.
Once a thorough diagnosis has been made, the dentist will begin a personalized treatment program. Patients benefit from the non-surgical, conservative treatment our office provides. Individualized therapy will include muscle spasm reduction treatments in conjunction with an easy to wear, comfortable dental orthotic, referred to as a splint. The orthotic covers the lower teeth holding the jaw in proper alignment, reducing tension in the muscles of the jaw joint, allowing healing to take place. Once pain is controlled and the jaw joint is stabilized, the bite is balanced so the teeth, muscles and joints all work together in harmony.
It is important to assess the posture of each patient to determine whether or not the shoulders, pelvis and hips are level. Photos are taken of each patient to check for the above as well as to check for forward head posture. If there is a problem with the shoulders, hips or pelvis or if one leg is longer than the other, then a referral to a chiropractor would be necessary.
To solve the problem of forward head posture which can cause cervical (neck) problems, referral to a dentist or orthodontist who uses functional jaw orthopedic appliances should be made. These appliances such as the Twin Block, MARA or Herbst Appliance successfully reposition the lower jaw forward and eliminate the forward head posture.
For more information on TMJ treatment in Pittsburgh call Dr. Sartorio today at 412-831-8700.