Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) works hard each day to help you talk, eat, drink, and even breathe. And, most of us don’t think about this critical joint unless it starts to cause issues.
The daily wear and tear on the TMJ can cause not only irritation, but misalignment as well. The TMJ is a ball-and-socket joint that relies upon a smooth, efficient process to move the jaw around without pain, inflammation, or painful symptoms of a TMJ disorder.
A misaligned jaw is more common than people realize. But is it something to be concerned about? The answer depends upon your unique facial anatomy and whether it’s causing pain or other problems. Before you seek invasive treatment for this issue, make sure you know the facts about the jaw and how it works.
Tooth and Jaw: Working Together
Ideally, the teeth sit in alignment for proper jaw function. This means the teeth come together without too much impact or pressure. The top row of teeth should come down just outside of the lower teeth in an ideal bite.
You’ve probably heard the terms “overbite” and “underbite.” These refer to teeth that do not come together quite like they should. An overbite means the upper teeth overlap the lower teeth too much, while an underbite means that the lower teeth sit outside of the upper teeth when biting down. These are both indicators of a possible jaw misalignment.
An underbite or an overbite does not necessarily need to be corrected or treated. If a person is able to use their jaw and teeth comfortably, they may be able to live with an overbite or underbite and have no issues. But, sometimes this jaw misalignment does cause problems that require treatment, including:
Trouble chewing due to pain or a stiff jaw
Excessive mouth breathing, even when the nose is clear
Sleep problems because of pain or pressure on the jaw or face when lying down
Trouble with speech, which may occur if pain or stiffness inhibit the natural movement of the jaw
Facial or jaw pain that occurs after eating or speaking
Ongoing headaches or facial pain
Inability to find a comfortable “bite” or the sensation of multiple bites
A sudden or gradual change in the bite
Correcting an overbite or an underbite does not necessarily solve the issue, however. Sometimes the teeth will appear to fit very well, especially after treatment with orthodontics.
It is important to understand that the lower jaw can be positioned by the muscles in a way to allow alignment of the teeth to fit together. But, sometimes this position held by the muscles does not allow optimum alignment of the ball within the socket. In this way, the appearance of a good bite may not be a true representation of what is happening at the level of the joint itself.
Treating Jaw Misalignment
Jaw misalignment can be a minor issue or a major one. Whether you need treatment depends upon your symptoms, your history of TMJ problems, and what seems to trigger the pain or discomfort.
Invasive treatments are not necessarily needed if you don’t have pain or dental problems as a result of the jaw misalignment. But some people find that they need help realigning the jaw because it’s causing pain or unnecessary wear and tear on the teeth. Seeing a dental professional who specializes in TMJ health is the first place to start. Some ways to help realign the jaw include:
Muscle relaxation, behavioral therapy. and stress management to bring the muscles of the jaw back to health and alignment on their own
A customized bite appliance that gently helps place the TMJ muscles in their proper position
Braces or palate expanders to reposition teeth and stretch the palate when needed
In rare and severe cases, jaw surgery, which should only be considered when all other options have been exhausted
Beware of “Bite Corrector” Options
Sometimes dentists will recommend grinding on teeth or putting you in braces to correct your bite, even thinking that they will resolve your jaw problems by doing so. At MedCenter TMJ, we prefer to make sure your jaw joint alignment is corrected prior to making any permanent changes to your teeth. We believe this will give you the best long term treatment outcomes and limit the chances for retreatment being required down the road.
There is no simple, one-size-fits-all approach to jaw misalignment. If a dental professional has said you have a misaligned jaw but you continue to have no dental or health issues because of it, sometimes it’s best to leave it alone. Follow up visits every six months can ensure that the teeth continue to be healthy and that the problem isn’t getting worse. And, avoiding TMJ triggers such as chewing gum, excessive stress, and poor sleep can help you continue to live a healthy life with a jaw that is slightly misaligned.
Concerned About Jaw Misalignment?
As with any medical treatment, be sure you weigh the pros and cons before moving forward. Consider the risk and cost of major treatments for a misaligned jaw and what benefit they will have.
At MedCenter TMJ, we opt for conservative treatment options first because they are safe, cost-effective, and can often correct the issue efficiently. Of course, in severe cases where the patient is in considerable pain, our focus is to help give them symptom relief while treating the issue, but will also do everything possible to help you avoid surgery or major procedures.
Get Your Health and Confidence Back
Our goal is simple: we want our patients to lead healthy lives without pain from a TMJ problem. We use state-of-the-art technology for diagnosis and treatment of TMJ problems, and we provide you with a customized treatment plan that fits your lifestyle.
If you are having jaw pain or symptoms of TMJ, contact MedCenter TMJ to set up an appointment.