Peripheral to day to day dentistry but equally important is the subject of Dental Occlusion.
A fancy word for something we must do every day – bring our jaws together and bite!
Around 1 in 4 people may have some symptoms and men and women are equally affected, although women tend to ask for treatment more often than men. This may be attributable to recent research linking the menopause and hormonal changes to this condition.
If your teeth are misaligned in any way, this will not only cause problems to your teeth but also the gums and specifically the TMJ (the temporo-mandibular joint – the muscles that move your jaw).
Generically these are called ‘occlusal’ problems and some common causes are outlined below:
- teeth are out of line
- teeth are heavily worn or constantly breaking
- fillings have fractured
- Teeth that are loose or receding from the gum line
- Crowns that are worn and loose
The main symptoms are continual headaches or migraine; especially first thing in the morning; pain behind your eyes; sinus pain and pains in your neck and shoulders. Sometimes even back muscles are involved. There is also:
- Tenderness on biting
- Teeth constantly ache
- Teeth are loose
- Clicking, grinding or pain in your jaw joints
- Ringing or buzzing in your ears
- Difficulty in opening or closing your mouth
If your jaw is in the wrong position, the muscles that move the jaw must work a lot harder to compensate and this creates fatigue which ultimately causes muscle spasms
Factors such as clenching or grinding your teeth, especially when you are concentrating on daily tasks such as fixing the car, mowing the lawn or cleaning the house, this often propagate the condition.
Other situations may occur when you wake up in the morning with a stiff jaw or tenderness when you bite together. This may be caused by clenching or grinding your teeth during sleep and you probably don’t even realise you are doing it.
Regular severe tension headaches, neck and shoulder pain as well as stress may well be attributable to these types of jaw problems. Any pain or discomfort on the side of your face especially around your ears or jaw joints are also symptoms of TMJ problems.
Inevitably we are here to help and in extreme cases we can refer you to experts who specialise in occlusal problems.
Depending on the symptoms you are having, the aim is always to pinpoint occlusal problem, e.g. various muscles may be sore when tested, or there may be broken and worn areas of your teeth which would indicate that you are grinding your teeth – the most common sign of an incorrect bite.
As with any joint pain, a soft diet is recommended as it will place less stress on the joint. Physiotherapy exercises can often help, and we can happily recommend these to you if required.
For night time teeth grinding, we strongly recommend dental guards, these are readily available and designed to protect teeth and prevent the TMJ from clenching and grinding.
Dental solutions are also afforded through tooth adjustment or equilibration, where your teeth are carefully adjusted to meet evenly. Changing the direction and position of the slopes that guide your teeth together can also often help to reposition the jaw.
If an incorrect bite is causing your discomfort, we may recommend a hard-plastic appliance that fits over your upper or lower teeth. This appliance must be measured and fitted very accurately so that when you bite on it, all your teeth meet at the same time in a position where your muscles are relaxed.
Teeth straightening is another option worthy of consideration. Especially, if your teeth are too far out of line or in a totally incorrect bite position. We would recommend an orthodontic brace which will help move them into a better position.
Other dental solutions are Teeth replacement. The TMJ needs equal support from both sides of both jaws. The chewing action is designed to work properly only when all your teeth are present and in the correct position. Missing teeth may also need to be replaced either with partial dentures or a bridge.
Rest assured we will never replace missing teeth until we are sure that occlusal problems are the root cause of your health problem.
In short doing nothing will create an even bigger headache than the one you may be experiencing.
So, if you can identify with these symptoms, then please discuss this with your practice dentist, as they will endeavor to minimize your discomfort and restore your health and well-being.