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TMJ

Jaw joint dysfunction is often misdiagnosed. The result can be a host of painful symptoms and their treatments that only mask the real condition underneath.

BY DR. GENE JENSEN

Does your jaw hurt? If it’s based on TMJ dysfunction, it may be only the tip of the iceberg. For one thing, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction is often misdiagnosed. The TMJ refers to the two symmetrical jaw joints located at the upper end of the lower jaw. The joints originally evolved as a prehensile organ, much like monkey’s tail, used in the acquisition of food as well as speech.

About 85% of the population is in the US and Canada is afflicted with some form of abnormal alignment of the teeth or jaws, with 25% having pain or other symptoms. Currently half of the population clench or grind their teeth as the result of stress and/or an abnormal bite.

There is also an epidemic of patients who suffer from TMJ dysfunction and gastrointestinal disturbances because of an abnormal bite. These joints depend on the proper alignment of the teeth, the bite, and the jaw muscles to position themselves painlessly into their joint sockets a thousand times a day, every day of our lives.

In the year 1900, the average human lifespan was 40 years. It has more than doubled in the past 100 years. Unfortunately, because of evolution, heredity, diet and lifestyle, fewer than 15% of the population of the US and Canada have a perfect sets of jaws and teeth. Add the increased stress of everyday life, which is often manifested in clenching and grinding of the teeth and jaws, and you have a recipe for a multitude of maladies. 

When the teeth and jaws are aligned, sensors send a biofeedback message to the jaw joints and muscles to let them know where they are in space. Sensory nerves connect to the brain stem to areas from the lower jaw to the forehead. They also link to the nerved that are responsible for balance, hearing and vision.

Many areas of the head and face, neck, shoulders and arms are interconnected and interdependent. All of these areas are affected by how the teeth and jaws interact and with the amount of force the jaw muscles exert, especially when the patient is under stress.

Despite decades of research, TMJ dysfunction is not well understood. No-one has come forth with a silver bullet, so millions of people continue to suffer throughout their lives. Unfortunately. Many patients are misdiagnosed, mistreated, or over medicated for years because the professionals who treated them did not recognize the devastating effects that this condition can have on overall health.

The list of possible symptoms includes headaches, loss of visual acuity, sinusitis, dental pain, loss of hearing or

balance, neck and shoulder pain, “pins and needles” down the arms and hands, locking jaws, ringing in the ears, cavities and gum disease, fractured fillings, tongue or cheek biting, difficulties with speech and breathing, sleep apnea, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome- and in many cases severe jaw pain that is only treated symptomatically.

These symptoms can be misdiagnosed by either the physician, who may prescribe pain medication to a patient who becomes a “legalized drug addict,” or by a dentist who might place the patient on a bite plane, extract teeth or perform unnecessary root canals.

Permanent solutions are available. Often, the patient needs to be treated by a rearranging the teeth and jaws so the jaw joints can function smoothly for a lifetime. Treatment can include a combination of braces, jaw surgery, replacement of essential missing teeth and restorative dentistry to re-establish the normal function and esthetics of individual teeth. Only then can the patient be free from drugs and bite planes and have sufficient self esteem and confidence to face the world.