Although the word “dentist” refers specifically to your teeth, a good general dentist understands that the health of your teeth depends on treating your teeth in the context of their environment. After all, your diet has a dramatic impact on the health and function of your teeth, and the leading cause of tooth loss in the US isn’t cavities or decay of the tooth itself, but gum disease, which attacks the gums and bone that support your teeth.
Neuromuscular dentistry is an extension of that concept, looking at how your teeth interact with the bones, muscles, and nerves that make up the entire jaw system to ensure that your teeth do not suffer damage or loss because of dysfunction there.
What Is Neuromuscular Dentistry?
Neuromuscular dentistry is an approach to dentistry that looks at all the elements of the jaw system together. Like the parts of a machine, smooth function of the jaw depends on the proper interaction of all the different parts. If some of the parts aren’t working well together, the system as a whole becomes fouled up.
In particular, neuromuscular dentistry considers the interaction between three key elements: the teeth, the jaw joints, and the muscles. In a healthy jaw system, the muscles can achieve a position of maximum rest while the teeth and jaw joints are also in optimal positions. For the muscles, this means that all sets of muscles involved in moving and supporting the jaw are at rest together. For the teeth, this means that they are either just touching or sitting slightly apart. For the jaw joint, it means that the cushioning discs are in place between the two bones (the temporal bone and the mandible, which is why these joints are called the temporomandibular joints).
Problems begin in this system when the systems aren’t in harmony. If the muscles can’t find a comfortable position, they will work to get to one. Sometimes your jaw muscles will end up working against one another. Sometimes they will be working against your teeth. Other times, they will be pulling to displace or dislocate the jaw joints.
The results of these imbalances can be a number of potentially serious effects for your jaw and teeth. You might experience uncontrollable bruxism, teeth clenching and grinding. You might develop temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which can result in symptoms throughout your body.
Benefits of Neuromuscular Dentistry
Neuromuscular dentistry focuses on treating jaw problems like TMJ, but it also lends insight into general and cosmetic dentistry. In particular, it teaches dentists to be aware of when jaw problems can lead to teeth problems, and how to prevent them.
If, for example, you are considering getting porcelain veneers because you have a number of chipped, cracked, and worn teeth in the front of your mouth, a dentist trained in neuromuscular dentistry is more likely to perceive that a jaw problem might be the root cause of your tooth problems. Neuromuscular dentistry also teaches that fixing the bite problem is important to prevent the veneers from being damaged like the natural teeth had been. The same goes for dental crowns on molars. Neuromuscular dentistry also teaches dentists how to avoid causing bite problems when adding restorations.
Diagnosing Neuromuscular Imbalances
Although neuromuscular dentistry is not a recognized dental specialty, it involves a very scientific process for determining the nature and extent of your bite problems. In our office, we use the K-7 diagnostic equipment from Myotronics. This allows us to measure your muscle activity, track the motion of your jaw, and listen closely to your jaw joint to identify irregular motions. We will also examine your teeth, feel your jaw muscles, and examine other aspects of your jaw system. We may recommend detailed imaging with CT scans or MRIs to determine the state of your jaw joint.
Once we have identified the nature of your jaw joint problem, we may recommend TMJ treatment.