Many people who have pain around their ears may be experiencing pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Dr. Rhonda Savage explains that the TMJ is the joint found near the ear where the lower jaw connects to the head. It is easy to confuse TMJ pain with an ear ache “because the ear and the joint are so close together.” The pain can radiate through the head, the back of the neck, and into the shoulders. The pain is sometimes, but not always, caused by clenching and grinding of the teeth. For some women, Dr. Savage says, the pain can be caused by hormonal changes that women go through naturally.
How can someone tell if a problem is TMJ-related? Dr. Savage says that “If you have any chronic . . . head and neck pain, it’s good to see your dentist.” One thing a dentist will check is to see that a patient’s bite is balanced, and it’s a problem most patients don’t even realize can be a problem. But, Dr. Savage points out, if you have one body part out of balance, it is likely to cause problems with other body parts. TMJ can work the same way. Teeth clenching and grinding or TMJ issues can cause referred pain in the head, neck and shoulders. The pain can be debilitating for patients. They can develop headaches, among other problems.
Dr. Savage explains that several things can cause TMJ problems. One of them is stress. Another is habitually clenching or grinding the teeth. One way a person can become aware of this kind of problem is to notice if their teeth are together during the day. The teeth should not be together like that, says Dr. Savage. People will clench their teeth “when they’re driving, when they’re focused, working, or on a computer or stressed out.” If you do it during the day, you will do it at night as well. “That can lead to TMJ problems.” A bite imbalance can also cause TMJ issues.
Dr. Savage explains that in her office, they do an initial screening of all patients. Those who don’t sleep well at night can have snoring or sleep apnea. Sleep issues can be related to headaches and migraines. There are often connections between problems. “Patients with TMJ and headaches can have sleep apnea as well.” So Dr. Savage scans patients for both sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If problems are detected, Dr. Savage has a computerized analysis of a patient’s bite. The detailed analysis the computer provides lets Dr. Savage determine precise bite adjustments.
For patients who have headache problems, Dr. Savage can treat the head and neck muscles using cold laser, ultrasound, and TENS units. These treatments can reduce inflammation and increase blood flow. Also, Dr. Savage can work to deprogram a patient from clenching and grinding. The root cause might be an automobile accident or other injury in the past. “But simply having had their wisdom teeth removed or having orthodontic treatment can also trigger this kind of head and neck imbalance.”
Dr. Rhonda R. Savage, DDS, CSP, owner of Uptown Dental Gig Harbor in Gig Harbor, Washington. She has almost four decades of experience in the field, including service as a dental assistant and a Navy dentist during the years of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In addition to providing excellent general, cosmetic, and restorative dentistry services, Dr. Savage focuses on the total health and well-being of her patients with the TruDenta® system of pain relief. Because she believes that when patients sleep well, they are generally healthier, Dr. Savage provides diagnosis and treatment of snoring and/or sleep apnea, as well as treatments for TMJ Dysfunction (TMD), migraine headaches and/or tension headaches. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.