If you have chronic jaw pain, you may be one of an estimated 10 million Americans suffering from temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). If so, it's quite possible you're also coping with other health conditions.
TMD is an umbrella term for disorders affecting the temporomandibular (jaw) joints, muscles and adjoining tissues. The most common symptoms are limited jaw function and severe pain. Determining the causes for these disorders can be difficult, but trauma, bite or dental problems, stress and teeth clenching habits seem to be the top factors. Women of childbearing age are most susceptible to these disorders.
In recent years we've also learned that many people with TMD also experience other conditions. In a recent survey of TMD patients, two-thirds reported having three or more other health conditions, the most frequent being fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or chronic headaches. Researchers are actively exploring if any systemic connections exist between TMD and these other conditions, and how these connections might affect treatment changes and advances for all of them including TMD.
In the meantime, there remain two basic approaches for treating TMD symptoms. The most aggressive and invasive approach is to surgically correct perceived defects in the jaw structure. Unfortunately, the results from this approach have been mixed in their effectiveness, with some patients even reporting worse symptoms afterward.
The more conservative approach is to treat TMD orthopedically, like other joint problems. These less invasive techniques include the use of moist heat or ice to reduce swelling, physical therapy and medication to relieve pain or reduce muscle spasming. Patients are also encouraged to adopt softer diets with foods that are easier to chew. And dentists can also provide custom-fitted bite guards to help ease the stress on the joints and muscles as well as reduce any teeth grinding habits.
As we learn more about TMD and its relationship to other health conditions, we hope to improve diagnosis and treatment. Until then, most dentists and physicians recommend TMD patients try the more conservative treatments first, and only consider surgery if this proves unsatisfactory. It may take some trial and error, but there are ways now to ease the discomfort of TMD.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of TMD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
While dental diseases tend to be a greater concern as we get older, they also pose a potential threat to children. A particular type of tooth decay called early childhood caries (ECC) can severely damage children's unprotected teeth and skew their normal dental development.
Fortunately, you can protect your child's teeth from disease with a few simple practices. First and foremost: start a hygiene habit as soon as possible to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque. You don't have to wait until teeth appear, either: simply wipe the baby's gums with a clean wet cloth after nursing to minimize the growth of oral bacteria.
When their teeth do begin to erupt, you can switch to brushing (you can add flossing as more teeth erupt—but until the child shows appropriate dexterity, you'll need to do it for them). For infants, brush gently but thoroughly with a soft-bristled brush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste. When they grow older you can increase the toothpaste to a pea-sized amount. And as soon as you can, get them involved with learning to perform these vital habits on their own.
You should also limit your child's consumption of sugar. Our favorite carbohydrate is also a favorite of bacteria, who consume any remnants in dental plaque as a primary food source. So, keep sugary snacks and foods to a minimum and limit them mainly to mealtimes. And don't put a baby to sleep with a bottle filled with a liquid containing sugar (including formula and breastmilk).
Finally, begin taking your child to the dentist regularly by their first birthday for routine cleanings and checkups. Besides removing any hard to reach plaque, your dentist may also apply sealants and topical fluoride to help protect and strengthen tooth enamel. Regular visits make it more likely to detect the early signs of decay, before it does extensive damage. And beginning early makes it less likely your child will develop a fear of dental visits that could carry on into adulthood.
These and other steps will go a long way in protecting your child's teeth and gums so they develop normally. A little prevention and protection will help ensure a happy, healthy smile later in life.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop healthy teeth and gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other healthcare organizations recommend breastfeeding as the best means for infant feeding. While bottle feeding can supply the nutrition necessary for a baby's healthy development, breastfeeding also provides emotional benefits for both baby and mother.
But there might be an obstacle in a baby's mouth that prevents them from getting a good seal on the mother's breast nipple—a small band of tissue called a frenum. This term describes any tissue that connects a soft part of the mouth like the upper lip or tongue to a more rigid structure like the gums or the floor of the mouth, respectively.
Although a normal part of anatomy, frenums that are too short, thick or inelastic can restrict a baby's lip or tongue movement and prevent an adequate seal while nursing. The baby may adjust by chewing rather than sucking on the nipple. Besides a painful experience for the mother, the baby may still not receive an adequate flow of breast milk.
Bottle-feeding is an option since it may be easier for a baby with abnormal frenums to negotiate during nursing. But the problem might also be alleviated with a minor surgical procedure to snip the frenum tissue and allow more freedom of movement.
Often performed in the office, we would first numb the frenum and surrounding area with a topical anesthetic, sometimes accompanied by injection into the frenum if it's abnormally thick. After the numbing takes effect, we gently expose the tissue and cut it with either surgical scissors or a laser, the latter of which may involve less bleeding and discomfort. The baby should be able to nurse right away.
If you wait later to undergo the procedure, the baby may already have developed compensation habits while nursing. It may then be necessary for a lactation consultant to help you and your baby "re-learn" normal nursing behavior. It's much easier, therefore, to attempt this procedure earlier rather than later to avoid extensive re-training.
While there's little risk, frenum procedures are still minor surgery. You should, therefore, discuss your options completely with your dental provider. Treating an abnormal frenum, though, could be the best way to realize the full benefits of breastfeeding.
Every May, the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association asks people around the world to spread awareness of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Anyone with fibromyalgia and its associated joint and muscle pain knows all too well how chronic pain can disrupt everyday life. And as we see frequently in the dental office, people contending with the jaw pain and dysfunction associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can equally relate.
But here’s the kicker—if you’ve been diagnosed with either TMD or fibromyalgia, there’s a good chance you’re also dealing with both conditions. For example, in one recent survey of over a thousand TMD patients, two-thirds reported also having fibromyalgia or similar kinds of health issues. Researchers are looking intently at possible connections between TMD and fibromyalgia since understanding any potential link between the two might open the door to new ways of treatment.
Fibromyalgia patients experience frequent muscle spasms and fatigue throughout their bodies, coupled with other problems like sleeplessness and memory difficulties. Most researchers today believe it’s caused by a malfunction within the central nervous system (CNS) to process pain. Those working with TMD research are also considering whether the same type of malfunction contributes to jaw joint pain and dysfunction.
TMD is an umbrella term for various disorders involving the jaw joints and associated muscles. When you come to the dental office, it is important that we know about any TMD pain you may be experiencing because this can affect your dental visits. For example, people with TMD may have trouble holding their mouth open for an extended period of time, so we can adjust dental exams and treatments accordingly. Also, we will want to look for underlying dental conditions that may have contributed to your TMD.
If you’re experiencing both TMD and fibromyalgia symptoms, be sure you let us as well as your rheumatologist know the various symptoms you’re experiencing with each condition, the treatments you’re undergoing and the medications you’re taking.
For TMD in particular, here are a few things you can do to reduce its impact on your daily life:
- Avoid foods that require heavy chewing or jaw widening;
- Use thermal therapies like warm compresses or ice packs to ease jaw stiffness and pain;
- Practice relaxation techniques to reduce stress in your life;
- Ask about muscle relaxants or other medications that might help.
You may find that some of these practices, particularly stress reduction, are also helpful in managing fibromyalgia. And if there is a deeper connection between TMD and fibromyalgia, unraveling the mystery could hopefully lead to even greater relief for both.
If you would like more information about managing your symptoms, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions” and “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
Tooth decay and developing bite problems could be major obstacles to your child's normal growth and development. Without good, preventive dental care at home and from the dentist, these obstacles could impact their health now and well into adulthood.
Here are 3 things you should do to help your child stay ahead of harmful dental problems.
Start daily hygiene early. To protect your child from tooth decay, you should begin cleaning their teeth and gums early, even before teeth appear. For your first hygiene efforts use a clean wet cloth to wipe their gums after feeding to reduce bacterial growth in the mouth. After teeth begin to erupt start brushing them with a fluoride toothpaste—a slight smear for infants and up to a pea-sized amount when they get older.
Keep sugar to a minimum. The bacteria that causes tooth decay thrive on sugar. To minimize bacterial growth, keep your child's sugar intake to a minimum by providing dental-friendly snacks and foods. Also, try to limit any sugar they eat to mealtimes rather than with snacking through the day. And avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula and breastmilk).
Begin dental visits around age one. Dentists and pediatricians recommend regular dental visits for children starting around their first birthday. This increases the chances of detecting disease or bite problems early before too much damage occurs. Your dentist can also provide preventive measures like sealants or topical fluoride to reduce the risks of tooth decay. And early visits lessen the chance of your child developing dental visit anxiety, a phobia that could continue into adulthood.
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