First, I believe that this is one of the most important articles that I’ll write. For the past twenty plus years, the study of occlusion (how the teeth meet plus A LOT more) has been my passion. It is very difficult to explain to patients how the bite can be responsible for so many dental issues. And, it is even more difficult for patients to understand that fixing the bite does not generally mean just getting braces (orthodontics).
Having just returned from a three-day advanced TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder or TMJ disorder) program, I learned updated techniques to assist in the establishing of proper bites for patients – especially those who suffer form head, neck and facial pain. We were able to see objectively with the help of computer analysis how getting the jaw position right results in muscles which RELAX, and, therefore, STOP HURTING!
And that is the big paradigm shift that is difficult for patients to understand. Occlusion involves a system which includes the teeth, the upper and lower jaws, muscles, ligaments, nerves, etc. And, when this system is out of balance, there may be a variety of signs (what the dentist sees) and symptoms (what the patient experiences) which develop.
If a person’s occlusion is out of balance, he or she may develop loose teeth, sensitive or painful teeth, worn and broken teeth, headaches, neck and shoulder pain, facial pain, dizziness, clicking or popping jaw, ringing in the ears, tingling fingers, and much more. Most people, if told that they have problems due to their bite, assume that the only way to fix it is by having orthodontics or braces on their teeth.
Orthodontics is a dental specialty which addresses how to straighten teeth and how to make the upper and lower teeth fit together. It does not address the position of the jaw nor the muscles and other “soft” tissues which support the jaw. And it is the jaw position and the muscles which need treatment to solve most bite-related problems. Picture the jaw just hanging from the skull by muscles and ligaments. As we close our mouths, we bite to bring our teeth together as best we can. If our ideal “physiologic” jaw position and the tooth biting position do not match, the jaw is forced into a ”bad” position requiring muscles to work overtime. Muscles which are over-worked build up lactic acid and begin to hurt. Most people experience such pain when they begin a new exercise program. So, just straightening the teeth without regard for jaw position nor muscle relaxation will not solve most problems of occlusion.
Please do not misunderstand the value of orthodontics. Due to various hereditary and environmental conditions, children develop crooked teeth which require straightening. Such “malocclusions” are best treated early and after a thorough analysis of how the problem developed. Orthodontists provide an excellent service and help both children and adults to look great and function well. Having dabbled in orthodontics, I have a real appreciation for the amazing work that they perform.
But this article is intended for those who have true “occlusal” issues which tooth straightening alone will not resolve. A thorough examination including a complete history, comprehensive examination, necessary xray evaluations, and diagnosis by a doctor or dentist who is well-versed with occlusal issues is the first step to successful treatment.
I am very excited about the wonderful advances that are being made in this field, and I welcome your comments and questions. I plan to continue addressing this subject in upcoming blog articles. Please let me know if you have specific questions which you will find interesting and pertinent. You may contact me by calling the office at 908.359.6655 or through our website at www.DesignsForDentalHealth.com .