Understanding the Jaw System
Neuromuscular dentistry starts with an understanding that there are three main components to your bite. First, there are the teeth, which do the actual biting, but as hard tissues, they play an important role in determining the resting position of the jaw. The relationship among the teeth determines the resting position of the jaws as well as how they come together for chewing or swallowing.
Next, there are the muscles. The muscles do the hard work of chewing, but they also help hold the jaw in place when it’s resting. Remember, the jaw isn’t supported by other bones—it hangs down and relies on muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues to support it. Finally, the jaw muscles are “on-call” to other muscles. They are all prepared to offer what help they can if one muscle is not able to do what is asked of it.
Then there is the jaw joint itself. The temporomandibular joint is one of the most complex joints in the human body. It is designed not just to open up and down, but also to slide forward and back, move from side to side, and tilt at an angle. The jaw joint consists of two bones that come together, the mandible, or lower jaw, and the temporal bone, part of the skull. Between them is a tough but soft cushioning disk that is held in place by ligaments.
How Jaw System Problems Affect the Rest of the Body
Some TMJ symptoms are easy to link to dysfunctions in the jaw system, such as jaw pain or worn teeth. Others, though, may seem less obvious.
There are two primary means by which jaw problems expand beyond the jaw. First, there may be direct involvement of the muscles in question. When the jaw muscles can’t do their job, they will recruit other muscles to help them. This spreads tension from the jaw to the head and neck, and it can even promote tension far away as those muscles recruit additional help.
The second method might be described as “collateral damage.” The temporomandibular joint exists at the body’s crossroads, where many nerves and blood vessels as well as the body’s primary airway, all cross. When the jaw joint isn’t working in a healthy way, these nerves and blood vessels can be pinched or pressured. The airway can be compromised, being partly or fully closed, and resulting in snoring or sleep apnea.
By correcting dysfunctions in the jaw system, neuromuscular dentistry teaches us, symptoms related to either of these mechanisms can be alleviated.
To learn whether neuromuscular dentistry can be used to treat your symptoms, please call (201) 343-4044 or email the River Edge Dental Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.