About a year into the pandemic, we started to see a steady stream of news articles about how dentists were seeing more patients come in with considerable dental problems, particularly tooth fractures and TMJ pain. We saw much of the same here in our own office.
Most chalked it up to pandemic stress. Chronic stress, after all, is an especially common cause of bruxism – habitual clenching and grinding – and that puts an enormous amount of pressure on teeth and jaws alike. Over time, as the song says, something’s gotta give.
But stress and bruxing aren’t the only cause of TMJ disorders.
(Aside: Although many people simply call such problems “TMJ,” that’s not the right name for them. “TMJ” is just the shortened name for the jaw joints that your mouth opens, closes, and moves on: the temporomandibular joints. Literally everyone thus “has TMJ;” not everyone has a TMJ disorder or dysfunction, though, or TMD for short.)
For instance, TMDs can be caused by injury to the jaw joints or dislocation of the discs that sit within the joint. Malocclusion – literally, a bad bite, in which the teeth don’t come together harmoniously – is another common culprit, as is arthritis.
Regardless of the specific cause, the disorder involves inflammation or irritation in and around the joints and adjacent muscles that support and stabilize them, resulting in a great deal of pain. This often manifests as chronic headaches, as well as pain in the jaws, face, neck, or shoulders.
But pain isn’t the only symptom. Other common symptoms include
- Popping or clicking sounds when you open your mouth.
- Difficulty opening your mouth.
- Limited mouth or jaw movement.
- Difficulty chewing.
- Ringing in the ears.
- Swelling on either side of your face.
- Tooth pain or sensitivity, without any signs of oral disease.
- Numbness or tingling in your fingers.
Many people simply turn to over-the-counter pain relievers to try to cope with the symptoms, which is fine in the moment but ultimately a Band-Aid-style approach that won’t bring you long-term relief. Most likely, you’ll simply keep needing more of the medication to dampen the pain.
But this is hardly the only option available. TMJ pain isn’t something that you just have to live with.
The first step is to determine the cause of the disorder. If it’s a malocclusion, that’s something we can correct, typically with orthodontics. If it’s a bruxing habit that indicates sleep apnea, we can see if you’re a candidate for oral appliance therapy to treat it or if CPAP is needed. If it’s stress, we can recommend therapies that can help you improve your resilience so it stops getting the better of you.
Always, we don’t want to just suffice in treating symptoms but identify and treat the root causes. That’s how you prevent a recurrence of the issues that brought you to our office in the first place.
The other step is to provide the appropriate treatment of the disorder itself, which can range from something as simple as a stabilizing splint or bite guard to something as complex as a comprehensive postural nutritional approach. We believe it’s crucial that any treatment be completely customized to each patient’s needs. One-size-fits-all dentistry just isn’t going to cut it.
With his neuromuscular approach and focus on balancing the bite so the muscles and jaws can be in their most comfortable, optimal position, Dr. Parsi has helped many hundreds of patients recover from chronic headaches and migraines, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, dizziness, and upper body pain…all by correcting their bite for optimal health.