Orthodontics is an important part of our lives today. Good oral health care is now available to more individuals than ever before and is important to being a healthy individual. When we ignore the signs of bad oral health it can greatly impact us in ways we never thought.
Good oral health does not solely include having good healthy teeth; it includes the entire mouth. Good oral health allows us to be free from oral cancers, sores, chronic pain, irritations in the mouth, and gum and tissue disease. When we speak and chew foods properly, it is important for our daily function and good nutrition. There has been a movement to have better oral health within the past few decades which has started more family conversations.
The jaw is a very important aspect to our oral health. It is the movable connection below the mouth (also known as the mandible) and the bone above the mouth (also known as the maxilla). The movement of the jaw allows the mouth to open and close. This is important in speaking, movement of the tongue, and chewing food. The lower set of the teeth in the mouth have roots that attach to the jaw. 5 sets of muscles allow the jaw to move, and they work in pairs with one set on either side of the mouth. They allow the jaw to move up and down and side to side.
The jaw plays an important role in our health and can become damaged through time or from birth defects. When activities that we do on a daily basis create discomfort in the jaw, it can become a problem. Examples include biting fingernails, clenching the jaw or teeth, and chewing gum. Clenching or grinding the teeth, a bad bite alignment, and wear from aging can all cause temporomandibular disorders (TMD). More serious issues in the jaw can occur such as fractures, which occur in the bone and can be severe or minor. Severe fractures require the jaw to be wired shut so that movement does not hinder the healing process. Tendinitis, infections from tooth decay or tooth injuries, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can also occur. When TMJ occurs, the jaw can swell where the jaw meets the cheekbone. Many times jaw problems are noticed when clicking, cracking, and popping noises occur when the jaw is moved from side to side. Many times this noise is near the ear but the jaw is the actual issue. When pain occurs with normal opening of the mouth, treatment should be sought.
Signs of an Unhealthy Jaw
- Chronic jaw pain or jaw joint (TMJ) pain
- Involuntary mouth breathing
- Inability of your lips to come together without straining
- Trauma or injury to the jaw or face
- Open bite (space between the upper and lower teeth when your mouth is closed)
- Protruding jaw
- Receding lower jaw and chin
- Tumor or pathology affecting the jaw
There are signs that can assist in helping you understand that you may have an unhealthy jaw. If the mouth cannot be opened more than two fingers wide on multiple occasions in a row, it may be necessary to visit a dentist. This is especially true if it lasts more than one or two days. The jaw movement needs to be gently increased over time. If pain occurs while doing this, anti-inflammatory medication can be prescribed by the dentist. There are also times when the jaw may become stuck in an open position. This occurs because the jaw joints are double jointed and have been removed from their socket. This may require a visit to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. This is not a common issue for many people, but does occur. A common occurrence and sign of an unhealthy jaw is inflammation. Inflammation can be painful and severely affect jaw joints. This is often due to trauma, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, infections, and other degenerative changes. Degenerative changes typically occur from years of teeth grinding. On a very rare occasion, inflammation can be caused from cancer. The inflammation is usually felt with pressure on the jaw joints. The pain comes from inside the tissues. The inflammation can change the way the jaw joints operate and the teeth come together. The jaw structure and issues should be addressed prior to treating the teeth. A computer tomography x-ray can help in determining if the bone structure is stable.
Jaw muscle problems can be common and are signs of bruxism. Jaw tightness, achiness, and fatigue are very common muscle symptoms. This can be a constant feeling or may only occur when the jaw moves. This can make it difficult to open the mouth. When muscle disorders affect the jaw, the pain may be felt in other areas such as the teeth and ears. If headaches and muscle spasms occur, they could be a result of stress, trauma. This is also possible when the wisdom teeth begin to break the gum. There are many ways to treat jaw disorders depending on what the problem is. Medications, oral appliances, massage therapy, and surgery are all possibilities.
There are a variety of mediation which may be used to treat jaw disorders, including the following:
- Over-the-counter acetaminophen, ibuprofen
- Prescription anti-inflammatory drugs
- Tricyclic anti-depressant medications at dosages not used for depression
- Antidepressants with pain relieving properties
- Opioid medications
- Anti-convulsant (seizure) medications used for jaw, headache and nerve pain, and to improve sleep quality
In some cases, oral appliances may be used to treat jaw disorders. These typically include oral splints. They should be made specifically for the patient and not purchased over the counter.
Physiotherapy and Massage Therapy
Physiotherapy and massage therapy are conservative options for those who have jaw muscle pain. These can increase the range of motion and muscle function.
Jaw surgery is usually performed inside of the mouth. This eliminates scarring on the exterior areas of the face including the jaw, chin, and around the mouth area. Orthognathic surgery will involve cuts being made in the jawbone. This allows the surgeon to position the jaw in the correct place to eliminate problems the patient is currently experiencing. Repositioning and properly aligning the jaw will be followed by the placement of screws and plates to secure the jaw in the new potion. In some cases, new bone may need to be added to the jaw. The bone and new jaw position will be secured temporarily with wires.
Jaw surgery is usually not a procedure that is completed on children. Usually the surgery is only appropriate after an individual has stopped growing and the jaw and skeletal features are fully grown. The typical age that females stop growing is 15, and males typically stop growing at the age of 18. There may be other circumstances in which children who have birth conditions or severe orthodontic problems require surgery at an earlier age.
It is important to be aware of your oral health and to pay attention to signs that could be telling you there is a problem. If you experience pain or other symptoms in your jaw, it may be a sign that your jaw is unhealthy. Healthy jaws move fluidly and do not experience pain. Dr. Jamali and his staff can provide you with a full exam to ensure that you remain healthy for years to come. If you have jaw issues, he can quickly address them and you will be on your way to a healthier jaw. Contact Dr. Jamali today at 212-480-2777.