When you’ve got TMJ pain and dysfunction getting in the way of your daily activities, your immediate and overwhelming concern is just to make the pain stop. Your next concern? Keep it from coming back.
To succeed in that second mission, it’s vital to work with a dentist who can help identify the cause of your TMJ troubles. Once we know the cause, we can treat that instead of just chasing after symptoms in hopes of alleviating them.
The causes of TMJ disorders (TMDs) are as varied as the ways these conditions can manifest. While the usual spiel is that they’re caused by things like a bad, unbalanced bite, habitual clenching and grinding (often attributed to stress), or injury, TMDs are often multifactorial conditions, with many factors fueling the issue.
That’s why holistic TMJ specialists like Dr. Abdulla strive to take a big picture look at each patient’s specific situation: so she can treat it specifically, with the goal of reducing pain and improving function in the short and long term alike.
A couple of recently published studies pound home the importance of considering all potential contributors to TMD.
One of these studies focused on biochemical factors in 100 patients. Half had been diagnosed with TMDs and half had healthy jaw joints. Blood tests were done to determine levels of several compounds that are involved in calcium metabolism: alkaline phosphatase (an enzyme), vitamin D, parathyroid hormone (PTH), calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Analysis of the results found that patients in the TMD group had lower levels of calcium and vitamin D than their healthy counterparts. Vitamin D not only plays key roles in bone health but also prevents muscle degeneration and reduces muscle pain.
Deficiencies can spell trouble. In this case, a severe vitamin D deficiency, the authors noted, may cause calcium and magnesium levels to drop and pose a risk for TMDs: “These results revealed that vitamin D and calcium deficiency should be investigated and corrected in patients with TMD.”
And this is why, when you come in for a TMJ assessment, nutrition is one of the things Dr. Abdulla will likely discuss with you. If there are deficiencies that may be playing a role in your condition – or dietary habits that may be aggravating it – she’ll recommend changes specific to your needs.
Another recent study focused on the relationship between TMDs and sleep – something we’ve looked at a bit before, such as how sleep apnea (a common disruptor of sleep) and TMJ disorders often occur together.
Sixty-three female TMD patients took part, completing several questionnaires to assess their stress levels, psychological distress, symptoms of autonomic nerve disorders, and sleep quality.
They were then treated with things like behavioral therapy to correct parafunctional habits, physical therapy, ultrasound and electrical stimulation therapies, and splint therapy. Their sleep quality, pain, and any comorbidities were assessed at monthly checkups. Some of the things the researchers observed over time:
- Significantly fewer patients in the group who slept the longest each night (more than 8 hours) experienced pain when moving their lower jaw.
- Depression and stress levels were significantly higher among those who slept the least (less than 6 hours nightly).
- Those who slept the least showed the least improvement in pain. The more sleep, the more improvement.
“Such results,” wrote the research team, “suggest the importance of identifying sleep quantity and related problems in the TMD patient group.”
So Dr. Abdulla will also likely spend time talking with you about your sleep habits and patterns, so those can be addressed to improve the odds for long-term relief.
Always, we have to look at the big picture.